The Case of the Restless Writer

The WIPs

Ever since the blogathon ended, I’ve been restless. And a little grouchy. All of a sudden I have an extra hour or two a day, the amount of time I was spending blogging. Every single day for the month of May.

June 1 should have been liberation day, but I couldn’t help myself, and I posted a short blog about my garden. June 2, I told myself I had to blog to participate in the school picture day blogging event.

Then finally: June 3. Saturday. There was absolutely no good reason I had to or should blog. The weather was gorgeous, the weeds in the garden beckoned, and we were all together as a family. But I wanted to post a blog!

Aside from the “few other things” in my life like spending time with my family, laundry, cooking, gardening, reading, there were always my WIPs, forlornly awaiting more attention through my daily blogging. Those old friends sat in their respective stacks and electronic files, patiently waiting and collecting dust.

I finally, ashamedly admitted to MEH (My Engineer Husband) that I wanted—no needed—to blog! That I was even writing a guest blog for someone who didn’t ask me—I offered! I was writing another to submit for consideration to a blogging friend looking for guest bloggers while she was on vacation.

In short, I was in trouble.

MEH reminded me of a book we used to have called Positive Addiction by Dr. William Glasser. In this book, Dr. Glasser talks about how people reach a transcendent, meditative state by doing activities they love everyday. And further, if you miss a day, you may suffer from symptoms of withdrawal (like anxiety or restlessness). Most of Glasser’s research involved running, but he also found people who became positively addicted to gardening, knitting, juggling, and—yes—even to writing. As with their evil cousins negative addictions, positive addictions are ones you are driven to do every day. Unlike negative addictions, however, positive addictions strengthen both mental and neurological capacity. And here’s the thing: Dr. Glasser suggests these strength gains carry over into all other aspects of life.

AHA! The minute I started reviewing the features of positive addiction, I realized MEH was right. I had become addicted to blogging!

Hello, my name is Julia and I’m a blogging addict.

A blogging fool, is more like it. Because although blogging is wonderful: it gets me writing everyday, it connects me to other wonderful bloggers and writers, it gives me positive feedback from comments, it gives me an anchor to my day. And, now I know it makes me feel better all day long….

But it is also not-so-wonderful. Because I neglect my WIPs. Which is, after all, the whole reason I started blogging: to write more with the eventual goal of being a published author.

Yesterday, after several hours of weeding and housecleaning therapy, I realized my solution: WIP Replacement Therapy (WIPRT).

With this new and radical treatment (that yes, I invented, but feel free to use it for your own blog addiction treatment), every time I feel an urge to write a blog (except on M-W-F and Sundays J), I will replace that urge with working on my fiction WIP. I will write at the kitchen table everyday for at least an hour, and it is my hope that within a month of WIPRT, I will be positively addicted to that instead of to blogging!

It won’t be easy, but with hard work and perseverance, and a little help and reminding from my writing friends on Twitter, I think I can do it!

Are you, like me, addicted to blogging? Do you have any other positive addictions? Do you think WIPRT will work for me? And, most importantly, will you pledge to be part of my WIPRT support system on Twitter?

Cheers,
Julia

A Boat by any other Name

When you live in a coastal community like I do, boats are everywhere. And almost every boat has a name (except for the smallest of rowboats or dories)…and that’s a lot of names. 

And as always, when I see the written word, I wonder: who thinks of these words, and how do they decide them? Not to mention all the stories I can invent about the boats and their owners from boat names as creative as Abracadbra, Diligence, Old Bone, or Vagabond Rabbit. 

From the people I’ve talked to, it turns out that naming a boat can be a lengthy process—with boat owners working hard to make sure they find just the right name. In fact, there are whole blogs, websites, and user groups devoted to helping people name boats, and some websites advertise the use of Psychics! In addition, there are superstitions and “Old Salt” (mariner, seafarer, fisherman) lore and traditions to help guide people as they name their boats.

Part of the reason it’s such a big deal is that often people will make assumptions about you just by looking at your boat name—and when you’re out boating, other boaters will see you first through your boat’s name. Therefore you might want to have the boat represent your personality. For instance, a boat named Equity may lead me to certain financial assumptions about the owner—and that owner may want me led to that conclusion. Or a boat named Blitz may lead me to believe the boat owner likes to go really fast—so it might be a good name for someone who plans to race with their boat. Or, if I see a boat named Blow Me or She Got the House or A Little Nauti, I would make other assumptions about the owner. When there’s a roman numeral after the name of the boat, like Capella IX, it is likely to mean there have been other boats by that name (in this case it may be a person’s ninth boat named Capella).

Depending on who you talk to, naming a boat can be as simple as simply liking a name or just as complicated (or more complicated) than naming a child. Like some fishermen who name their boats after their wives (like Lily B. or Drea Marie) or children—a tradition that at least one fisherman I talked to says has fallen out of favor because of the high divorce rate! And what if you have more kids? Would they feel slighted?

Besides naming a boat after loved ones, another old time tradition is naming a boat after a seabird, one boat builder told me, with Merganser and Osprey as popular names. This same boat builder told me that he often will use a part of the boat, especially an engine name, to name a boat—which is why some boats end up with names like Thoroughbred or Redwing or Flying Cloud.

Some families keep the same boat name for generations—with each new boat across several hundred years given the same name! Two young fishermen I talked to (shown in the rowboat below) said the same boat name had been in their family for eight generations, with each boat in every generation given the same name in succession!

These young men are rowing back to the dock
from their (larger) boat moored in the harbor.
The rowboat does not have a name; their larger boat
doesn’t have one either. But if it did,
they would’ve named it Fall-Out.

One of these same young guys says he has a boat he hasn’t named—because it’s just too much of a mess (I didn’t know there was a requirement of a certain level of fitness for a vessel in order that it could be named, but that’s what this young man implied…). When I asked him what he would name the boat, if he gave it one, he replied that he had thought of naming it Fall-Out. As in he could fall out of it because it’s in such terrible shape! 

Most boats (especially larger ones) are christened when they are given a name, by smashing a bottle of champagne across their hull. And some people believe that once named, it’s taboo to rename the boat. Some believe that changing the vessel’s name will “bring despair” to her crew and her new owners. Perhaps they believe the legend that all boats are recorded by name in the “Ledger of the Deep”— kept by Neptune, god of the sea—a mythical list of all boat names. So the legend goes: if you rename a boat, you will bring Neptune’s wrath upon you. 


There are also more-modern literature references about not renaming a boat, like this passage from TREASURE ISLAND:


He was hanged like a dog, and sun-dried like the rest, at Corso Castle. That was Roberts’ men, that was, and comed of changing names to their ships – Royal Fortune, and so on. Now what a ship was christened, so let her stay, I say.
Some people are willing to rename a boat as long as they undertake a “purging process”—wherein you remove the old names from all old boat records and everywhere on the boat by sanding and repainting. Then, once you have done that, you re-christen the boat with champagne and rename it. Others merely drink the champagne and call it even (okay, I made that one up).

Several places on the web list the “most popular boat names of the year” (kind of like the most popular baby names!), but the thing is, I discovered that the lists are different from site to site! According to boatUS.com, these are the top 10 boat names for 2010: Aquaholic, Andiamo, The Black Pearl, La Belle, Vita Mojo, Island Time,
Second Wind, No Worries,
Serenity,
and Blue Moon. 


My writing is inspired by living on the coast, surrounded by boats


How do your surrounding environments and lifestyles inspire your writing? Are there rituals, legends, superstitions that you are aware of? Does the community you live in have a strong lifestyle-to-geography connection like the Coast of Maine does?

Cheers,

Julia

I’m Just A Serial Girl

Cereal Girl from Sesame Street Wiki

It’s come to my attention lately that I may be in a minority among the writers I know….because, I’ll admit it: I’m a serial girl.

Let me be clear. I believe in the use of a serial comma in a series of elements that are separated by commas, with a conjunction (usually and or but) joining the last two elements, as in:

Jeri, Julia, and Minnie are the coolest writers because they use serial commas.

This grammatical choice is in direct opposition to AP style (the first style guide I ever used, as a journalism student), but is favored by the APA, the MLA, and the Chicago Manual of Style. It’s also considered a matter of personal choice and style, which is how I even happen to be writing about it today. My blogging friend Christine who blogs at Random Thoughts from Midlife wrote a post about comma use (in general, but with a reference to serial commas). I commented on Christine’s post that serial commas are one of my pet peeves. Then yesterday on Twitter, Christine was “OCD-ing” (her word) on Twitter about whether or not to use serial commas in her manuscript.

I told Christine my opinion on Twitter, and I’ll say it again now: it’s personal choice, as with many writing style questions. When I told MEH (My Engineer Husband) about this blog topic, he was surprised I considered it personal choice because he always uses serial commas (apparently it’s a family thing) and remembers to use them because of what his third grade teacher said:

“You should always use a serial comma. It makes a difference because if you’re in a court and a will reads ‘My Estate shall be divided equally between Tom, Dick and Harry,’ then it will be split 50% to Tom and 50% to Dick and Harry; whereas if it reads ‘Tom, Dick, and Harry,’ then the estate will be split 3 ways, and each person will get approximately 33%.

MEH says that’s a crucial difference….and he thinks the teacher said she was quoting a court case (although in retrospect he thinks she may have made that up to make an impression on the students in her class about fairness; isn’t that what appeals to third graders and maybe to all of us?). Anyway he’s remembered it all these years. And MEH says it’s the only thing he thinks he does know about commas.

Still, among writers, serial commas are often a topic of hot debate; we all have our opinions, for our various reasons. As I researched this post, I found one blog post I really liked that explained a lot of the grammatical underpinnings. You can see that blog post here (I’d never seen this blog before I found it on a random search yesterday, but  I’ll be going back because it looks like a good grammar refrence, if you like that kind of thing like I do!). 

Although we each make our own decision, I agree with my good blogging-Twitter-writer friend @literarydaze: the important thing is to pick one way and be consistent. I even kind of hesitated to write this blog because undoubtedly if you (or I) went back through my old blogs, there are probably a lot of places I left out the serial comma (or made other obvious grammatical errors). It’s easy to be inconsistent. I try my best for consistency, but I’m only human, and I am my own editor. 

The fact remains: I’m a serial girl…and when I started analyzing the serial comma choice, I realized there are other serial things that I like. For instance:

Serial TV shows: I admit it—you heard it here first—I love soap operas. For years and years (I’m telling you, these people could be my best friends) I watched As the World Turns and The Young and the Restless. When As the World Turns went off the air last year — by the way, boo hoo — I decided it was a good time to close the door on serialized TV shows. In fact we got rid of cable all together. Coincidence? Not really.
Serial books: I love reading series and one (and maybe even the other) of my WIPs is a book that I hope will become a series. Don’t many authors covet the idea of a series contract?

Serial ports: (used for connecting peripherals, like modems, to computers) These are necessary and important, but I don’t care about them as much as I used to when I was writing about network connectivity for Hewlett Packard. I certainly loved them then as my source of bread and butter writing.

Serial numbers: I like all numbers as identifiers, don’t ask me why. I just do. Numbers are very easy for me to remember so it’s an easy way for me to identify things (like makes and models of equipment) in our household records.

Finally, I’ll just add a word about serial’s homophone: cereal. I do not like cereal, except oatmeal and Cream of Wheat. And it’s not just because it’s spelled differently. It’s just not my thing.

What about you? Are you a serial girl (or guy)? And what about cereal?

Cheers,

Julia

The Cloistered Writer’s Life

L’Absinthe by Edgar Degas
from wikimedia commons

Egocentric: having or regarding the self or the individual as the center of all things (definition from dictionary.reference.com)

True confession time: I’m a little egocentric. (Don’t all bloggers need to be a little egocentric?)

But I’m not too egocentric. Which is apparently a good thing, according to the book I’m reading right now: about writing creative nonfiction. I’m not going to tell you who wrote said book because (to be honest) I don’t like it too much. And one of the things I decided when I started this blog was that I’m not going to write reviews about books I don’t like. However, I’d like to explore this writer’s point of view….

Don’t get me wrong, the book is well written and even has some good suggestions, but I don’t like some of the sweeping statements the writer makes as fact. Like this:

“…writers are permitted (and usually expected) to be eccentric, exhibiting behaviors often triggered by the monklike existence they are forced to endure for hours on end, then seeking relief, finding balance.”

He goes on to describe how writers find balance by doing things like drink heavily, party heavily, and generally cut loose heavily because they have had to work so hard and they need to find “relief from the cloistered writing life.”

EXCUSE ME?

But that’s only apparently completely true of fiction writers, because of nonfiction writers, he goes on to say:

“Creative nonfiction writers are permitted to be eccentric, but they must try not to be too egocentric.”

At this point, as I’m reading, I’m thanking my lucky stars that I got this book out of the library. Now, you might think this blog is a variation of the recent one I wrote about 2 Truths and A Lie. Not true. The gist of this post is that I don’t like it when a group of people (in this case writers, specifically nonfiction writers) are told in sweeping generalizations that they are or should be or should not be a certain way.

So I’m here to say to this never-to-be-named-in-this-blog writer of this never-to-be-named-in-this-blog book:

ARE YOU KIDDING ME????

Writers are like all other people: some of us party heavily (but some of us, I’d say most of the writers I know) do not, some of us are more egocentric than others, some of us are eccentric, some are just people living their lives.

So I repeat: I’m a little egotistical (but not much). And a little eccentric (but only a little). And I never ever feel a need to escape with heavy partying “as a relief from the cloistered writing life.” 

But the writer of this book: I give him an A+ in egotistical eccentricity.

What do you think of this writer’s point of view? And how do you escape the “cloistered writing life”?


Cheers,
Julia

The Police Beat

When you live in a small town (like I do), you get used to hearing gossip—and, conversely, being careful what you say and do to avoid being the topic of gossip. You expect to hear things at ball games, the grocery store, or even when you walk your dog around the block.
Like whose basement flooded—from a neighbor, at the corner down the street. Who’s getting divorced—I can’t count the number of divorces I’ve found out about at the grocery store. Or who’s having an affair—the baseball diamond. Or having a baby with someone else’s husband—at a field hockey game, I kid you not. Or whose kid had a wild party when their parents were out of town and trashed their house—at the neighborhood coffee shop. Every place you go, hotbeds of information.
But perhaps one of the biggest sources for town gossip is the Police Beat of the local weekly newspaper. This simple column has been known to make or break people. Certainly almost everyone I know thinks twice before calling the police about everything from something as simple as a missing dog to something as serious as a household break-in. I even know people who hesitated to call the police when their kids were missing! Really!
Why? They don’t want to appear in the Police Beat.
Maybe if you live in a larger town or a big city, this is hard to believe. I mean, how bad can this really be? You have no idea.
For instance, a while back, a friend’s dog (who was known for being “mouthy”—he was a golden retriever, what choice did he have?) stole an elderly woman’s purse on Main Street. Yes, as “Stealer” was on a walk—by himself—he grabbed the poor woman’s purse right out of her hands and made off with it, and she called the cops (of course). “Stealer” and his “parents,” you guessed it, headlined the Police Beat the next week.
Or what about the woman who called the police because she was outside in her garage one night and heard footsteps outside in the dark. She was terrified! The police arrive, sirens blazing only to startle away a herd of deer. Yep, Police Beat.
But perhaps the most bizarre—a woman (yes I know her) who was “taken in” to the police station for allegedly running over a police officer. Apparently, if I’m to believe what I read in the Police Beat and heard at the grocery store and at the ball field (this was a big story in town, folks), said woman was pulled over for speeding on her way home. She was in her bathing suit (yes, this was noted in the Police Beat); she was pretty p.o.’d (maybe I’d have been too, thinking about what the Police Beat would say, no doubt), and after she got her ticket, she pulled out a little too fast and then (allegedly) ran over the police officer’s foot. Embarrassing? Well, let’s just say, this was about the only thing anyone talked about for days, weeks, and (in my case) is still talking about in a blog—years later.
Because here’s the thing: it’s a small town, so each of these people is easily identifiable by everyone else just by what’s mentioned in the Police Beat. So, you can well imagine, the reluctance to call the police about ANYTHING for fear it will end up in the Police Beat. Then what? To be labeled the Kooky Lady at the corner of Orchard and Main streets (no, not my real street address, but I do live on a corner in the middle of town).
Still, sometimes you just have to call. Such it was that the Kooky Lady at Orchard and Main streets called the police to report that someone was stealing her apple tree—branch by branch.
Now, before you jump to the conclusion that I really am said Kooky Lady, you should know that I’m very passionate about my garden, the birds in my garden, and nature in general. You know this if you read my blog very often or if you follow me on Twitter. (If you don’t follow me on Twitter, please do, @wordsxo) Or ask my bird watching buddies on Twitter, @crytzerfry @thebirdsisters @erikamarksauthr @litlinx @cmsmith57 @amymackinnon, just how passionate I am about birds and flowers and spring and such. Right now it’s all about the lilacs about to bloom and the mourning doves nesting in the eaves of my porch and the orioles’ return to Maine—gorgeous!
Still, there’s the apple tree theft; I don’t want to forget about that. If you aren’t familiar with apple trees, you don’t know that their flowers (called blossoms, that actually produce the apples) are BEAUTIFUL and smell AMAZING. And what you also might not know, even remotely, if you are unfamiliar with apple blossoms, is that before they actually bloom all the way to their complete loveliness, they are tightly closed. As the weather warms—or, in this case, if you cut the branches first and bring them into a warm house—the blossoms open and are beautiful and smell AMAZING. But outside when the smell of the lilacs and the smell of the apple blossoms and sometimes the smell of the beach roses all merge together, it really is one of the most spectacular things in life, to be treasured and protected. You’ll have to take my word for it!
Back to the apple tree. In a corner of our yard, close to the street. A couple of weeks ago I noticed that there were more than several (I’d say 12) small branches snipped off the apple tree. Obviously with a pruning shears. To say I was mad would be an understatement. I was incensed. If you’re a gardener, you know that if you prune a bush or tree in the wrong place, then the tree grows badly. (Not to mention, the blossoms were gone!) And said random pruner did not prune in the correct place.
A couple of weeks ago, I noticed…
I asked a couple of my retired neighbors (who are always home, and are always interested in the goings-on around the neighborhood), and neither had seen anything. So, I put up a sign, yes I did, that said: This is private property and Don’t steal my apple branches, you scumbag. Or something like that (probably without the scumbag part because I’m too polite to say that).
But guess what? The next day, the very next day, I went out there and you guessed it, more branches were cut off! First I changed my sign to add the word scumbag to it (no I really didn’t, I’m still too polite), then we took pictures of the mutilated branches, and then I swallowed my fear of the Police Beat and called the police.
I’m sure you can only imagine the amusement of the police officer when he arrived. (He didn’t overtly laugh, but I know he was thinking he was laughing.) He didn’t take it too seriously, actually he suggested that it was deer or just a neighbor interested in “forcing a few apple blossoms on the kitchen table” (forcing is the technical term for making flowers bloom out of season), but I pointed out that pruning shears were obviously used and that “they” had taken about two dozen branches. A little too much for a kitchen table.
I convinced him that my apple branches were being sold on the black market. Illicitly and for probably a LOT OF MONEY. Basically, the very nice police officer politely agreed with me and told me that there wasn’t a whole lot he could do without catching said-thief in the act. After a brief second of eye contact, he wisely added that a stake out was out of the question, but that maybe I should buy a motion-detecting camera to protect my priceless apples, lilacs, and sea roses.
Then he headed back to his patrol car.
“Oh, one more thing, Officer Friendly,” I called out, as he walked toward his car, his back to me. I tried to sound casual. “Will this be in the Police Beat?”
He turned around. “Only if you file an official report, do you want to?”
“No, we’re good.”
And the Kooky Lady of Orchard and Main streets headed back into her house.
How does gossip news spread in your neck of the woods? Is it useful to you as a writer?
Cheers,
Julia

What’s Your Lucky Letter and Other Quizzy Questions

I love quizzes and filling out forms. Weird? No question. Helpful? Very. For instance, financial aid and loan forms, even taxes: most people hate filling them out! Me? I LOVE them!
When we first got married, it was a census year and I cried, yes I really truly cried when we didn’t get the long Census form. In fact, I was so disappointed that I called the Census Bureau and asked if I could turn in my short form for a long one.

“I love filling out forms,” I told the incredibly unsympathetic man when he tried hard to understand my question.

Not only did he deny me and get pretty annoyed, but he also implied that perhaps I was some kind of dangerous individual—like maybe I was stealing Census form secrets or something. I did my best to explain that I’m just a form, questionnaire, and quiz addict. But he wasn’t so interested. Maybe he fielded so many calls from form-hungry people like me that he just couldn’t go there.

But clearly I can’t fill my need with censuses alone—after all, they only come along every ten years! And they won’t even cooperate with my requests! Luckily there are always doctors’ office forms, the forms my kids have needed over the years for school, bank forms for buying houses, IRS forms, etc. You name it, there’s a form for it. And here’s the thing: no one else seems to like to fill them out. So I’m the form go-to person! And I love them all. But still, forms are merely a life requirement—kind of like the bread and butter of my addiction.

And if they are the bread and butter of my addiction, then quizzes are like the dessert!

So, imagine the thrill, yes the THRILL when I recently watched the movie THE BOUNTY HUNTER, and Gerard Butler, who plays the bounty hunter, announces to his ex-wife, a writer (played by Jennifer Aniston), that he knows her lucky letter.

I know what you’re thinking. How does a lucky letter have ANYTHING to do with my addiction? Clearly it got me thinking, that’s how. That somewhere out there, somewhere there had to be a quiz to determine my lucky letter!

I was so absolutely sure I could find one, that I broke one of my cardinal rules of blogging: mentioning in advance a blog I would write, having absolutely no guarantee I could produce one. Of course, someone picked up on the whole lucky letter idea (I mean we’re writers, so of course don’t we all want to have a lucky letter?): blogging friend Cynthia Robertson was also entranced with the idea of finding her lucky letter! So I was more determined than ever: I HAD TO FIND OUT HOW TO FIND OUT!

I searched high and low across the Internet. And all I found was one not-so-convincing quiz on Quibblo which was obviously not very scientifically accurate or even very relevant. I am skeptical, but I’ll tell you anyway. According to that quiz, my lucky letter is, wait for it: A. I know, pretty boring…

And the results, but more importantly the questions to reach them, seem suspect. For instance, one of the questions was what would I do if there was a man with a gun in my house? What can this possibly have to do with lucky letters (or anything else except fear and calling the police or possibly fighting like a maniac)? The range-of-age question tipped me off that this quiz was designed for—and maybe by—a younger audience. (Quibblo is a quiz site where anyone can submit a quiz.) The oldest age range is “28 and over.” I am—wellover that age, and perhaps I even should have selected the only other choice for that question which was: “I’m dead.”
I was disappointed! I was determined to find my lucky letter and, perhaps more importantly, to write a blog about it! I briefly tried to devise my own way of figuring out my lucky letter. But here’s the thing about people like me who like quizzes (and more importantly answers to quizzes): we want that official stamp of quiz or form approval, like a census or other governmental worker or even a teen who created a Quibblo quiz.

Finally, I had to accept that after spending much more time than I’ll ever admit to in this blog, I gave up and came to terms with the fact that I may never know my lucky letter. (Sorry, Cynthia, you may not either. I’m sorry to have let you down.)

Because, instead of continuing such a futile search, I’d rather spend time doing other quizzes like the one I stumbled on today on NPR—about whether or not I’m an annoying person. It’s a great quiz!! Twenty interactive questions to click on and immediately get an answer—I’d give the quiz a 10 out of 10 for quiz-taking satisfaction. Oh and the results…I found out that on a scale of 1 to 5, I am a 2.84 on the “am I annoying?” quiz.

Which means that while I’m not the least annoying person in the world, I’m probably also not the most…basically I’m Joe Normal in the World of Annoying.
Because according to this quiz, I’m only moderately annoying, in fact just about average. I mulled this fact over for a few minutes (I wish I’d been a solid “1”, I’m not gonna lie), but then it hit me: Average starts with A! And isn’t that my lucky letter? Suddenly it was all starting to make sense: maybe that Quibblo teen really knew what she was talking about after all!


What’s your lucky letter? Take the quiz and find out! Are you like me: do you like to fill out forms and take quizzes?

Cheers,
Julia

Blog 101

The lie of “2 truths and a lie” from yesterday’s blog was: #2, I really did NOT eat an ant! (Yes, I really did have bbq hippo!) Only one person guessed right: Leah of Leah’s Thoughts! Next time you’re in Maine, I’ll buy you lunch, Leah…but not ants….or hippo….maybe lobster?


This is Blog 101. The 101st blog I’ve written.
I was pretty surprised when that number popped up today. I didn’t realize I’d written so many blogs, but they really add up. Anyway, I started going through my old blogs, and I made some interesting discoveries, which I decided to—what else?—write a blog about!
The very FIRST BLOG COMMENT I got was on the blog called The 2% Club—about personality types (it was the 5th blog I posted)…I thought this post would really pull in commenters. I was wrong, I got only one comment! (In the interest of full disclosure, my real-first-first comment was made on the second blog I posted, but I found out later that one of my IRL friends wrote the comment anonymously, to help me get the comments rolling!) 


I have to say, this was one of the most discouraging things about being a new blogger—not getting any comments on the early blogs I wrote. In the whole first month I blogged, I only got about 22 comments, total, on all posts! That’s one of the reasons I make a point of commenting on the early blogs of new bloggers.

But it’s also one of the reasons there are some blogs I WISH I’D POSTED LATER, like….Is Writing Like Love? that I posted on Valentine’s Day, about 10 days after I started blogging. I loved it and still do! It got 0 comments, a big goose egg. Nada. I think the LOVE post (actually I blogged about LOVE all Valentine’s Week!) might have been more popular and might have gotten more comments if I’d written it later in my blogging career (did I really just say that?!).

Even though I loved that one and some of the other early blogs, by far the blog that was THE MOST FUN TO WRITE was the one I wrote on the old typewriter! And the MOST BELOVED CHARACTER ON MY BLOG? Clearly MEH (My Engineer Husband) who not only has had comments directed at him but also some commenters have asked for MORE information about him, and some people have even commented on what a good writer MEH is. (Little known fact about the MEH posts: they are in fact written by me….as MEH says: he’s an engineer not a writer.)

There is a BLOG I WISH I’D NEVER POSTED, and that’s A writer wonders: What Hails From the Forest Deep. I was trying to be funny and whimsical, but I fell flat on my face. I was thinking: woodchuck in a red vest. But honestly? I think a few of you thought I had gone around the bend, and I was implying I’d found (and believed in) sprites, gnomes or other mythical creatures? Not so.

By far, the MOST READ BLOG POSTS are the ones I’ve written about librarians. I owe this all to the inspiration of Marilyn Johnson who wrote THIS BOOK IS OVERDUE! After I read Marilyn’s book, I wrote a kind of a review about it (I’m not a book reviewer by any stretch of the imagination), then I visited and blogged about the Boston Public Library, and then I actually met Marilyn Johnson at a reading in Portland, Maine, and of course blogged about that! The first blog I wrote about Marilyn’s book has gotten double the hits of any other blog I’ve written!

But not the most comments. The MOST COMMENTED POST was Found Around My Desk, the one where I posted pictures of my desk. This post and the one about Marilyn’s book, about two weeks apart in post dates, were the ones that finally made me feel like someone was reading what I was writing! The desk one didn’t surprise me at all because aren’t we all curious about other peoples’ homes and writing spaces, especially we nosey writers?

Finally (if those were the two most popular blogs, followed closely by Poof! Three Writing Wishes and Writing from a Strong Sense of Place) then the MOST SURPRISINGLY FLAT-FALLING BLOG was The Mystery of the Blue Bags! I really like this one, one of my personal favorites, but it got NO comments! Go figure; it just shows that I never know what people will connect to and what they won’t! Just one of the mysteries I’ve uncovered in Blog 101.
What kinds of things would you like me to write about? Which blog posts of mine have you liked the most? The least? Do you have favorite blogs you’ve written? Do some that you like best fall flat on their face?

Cheers,

Julia

p.s. And don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about Crows, Lucky Letters, and a Ghost Story…look for those coming up soon! And yes, more about MEH!

2 Truths and a Lie

Are you a writer who has quirks? Superstitions? Or unusual habits? If so, you’re in very good company. Many well-known authors have some unusual writing and/or life habits or experiences (or so they say, I wonder).

§ Benjamin Franklin reportedly wrote in his bathtub. (He’s also credited for bringing the first bathtub to America.)

§ Every morning John Cheever got up, put on a suit, then took an elevator to the basement storage area of his building, where he would strip down to his boxers, then write until lunch. Then? You guessed it: suit back on, back upstairs, ate lunch. After? Yep, back down to the basement!

§ Isabel Allende starts every book on January 8, the same day she started writing her debut novel THE HOUSE OF SPIRITS.

§ Alexander Dumas wrote on different colored paper, depending on what he was writing: pink for non-fiction, blue for fiction, yellow for poetry.

§ Vladimir Nabokov wrote most of his novels on index cards.

§ Dan Brown keeps an hourglass on his desk and, at the end of every hour does calisthenics.

§ Poet William Wordsworth recited his poetry to his dog as he walked. If his dog barked or seemed agitated by what he read, Wordsworth would rewrite the poem.

§ Everyday before writing, P.G. Wodehouse ate the same breakfast of toast and honey or marmalade, a slice of coffee cake, and a mug of tea; as he ate, he read a “breakfast book” like a Rex Stout or an Ngaio Marsh mystery.

§ Novelist Richard Powers writes in bed, speaking his novels aloud to a laptop computer with voice-recognition software.

As I researched the information for this blog, here’s what I realized: most writers—heck, most people—have quirks and habits that would seem weird to other people….but are they true? Who knows! Because, as much as I want to believe these and other facts about writers I found on the Internet, the Internet is not always the most reliable source of information. So who knows if any of these things I just said are true!? Kind of reminds me of that game: two truths and a lie, you just never know.


I do know that if/when I get a book published, in order to get maximum publicity, I will make up the most outrageous story I can about my writing quirks and habits. Because hey, everyone can use some free publicity, right Ben Franklin?

Just to get ready, here I go again! (Even though yesterday I blogged with 7 things about me, and you might already know more about me than you really need to.) Two truths and a lie:

§ I once dined on barbecued hippopotamus on the banks of the Nile River. Tasty!

§ In Kenya, flying ants are considered a delicacy, and when I lived there, I ate a live flying ant. Delish!

§ When I took vertebrate zoology, the professor provided a cookbook for the animals we dissected. Yum!

Can you pick out which thing was a lie? What quirky things do you want to be remembered for? What are two truths and a lie about you?

Cheers,

Julia

From Julius with Love

I’ve learned a lot since I started blogging, most of it good, but one thing I’ve learned stands out as a man among men. Not figuratively but literally. Because—wait for it—I write like a man.



For some reason I seem to have the old Frankie Valli song “Walk like a man” running through my head when I write about this, but anyway, in one of my recent blogs, I mentioned that in a future blog I would explain “why and how I know I write like a man.” In a response to that, I got one of the sweetest comments ever from Cynthia Robertson, a blogging tweeting friend, when she said:

“…What do you mean you write like a man? You write like Julia. One of a kind Maine girl. Perfect.”


I know, sweet, right? (In this case, especially the part about me being a girl!)

In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you, however, that I only write fiction like a man. Blogging? Like a woman. (So maybe I better send Cynthia a sample of my fiction so she can comment on that….)

Anyway, it doesn’t completely take away the sting of the reality. For one thing, even admitting I write like a man—doesn’t that make you wonder who I really am? I mean there’s always the fear in the back of all our minds that we don’t really know who’s on the other end of the Internet connection we’ve gotten to know.

Am I really “Julia, one of a kind Maine girl,” or am I perhaps “Julius, one of a kind 16-year-old-kid hammering away at his laptop in the dark basement of his parent’s home”? I assure you it’s the former….but I’m just saying…we never do really know.

I know what you’re thinking—this wacky babe still hasn’t explained how she even knows that she writes like a man. What is this kooky chick talking about? When I first started on Twitter, way back about what feels like a hundred years ago (but is in actuality only a little over 3 months), I saw a link to a website that would tell me if I wrote like a man or a woman.

At that site, you paste in at least 500 words of your writing, and voila, you find out if you write like a man or a woman. Now on the surface, this may sound like an arbitrary ruling…man vs. woman. How do “they” know?

Well apparently a team of Israeli scientists wrote a computer software program that predicts an author’s sex (with 80% accuracy). According to the developers, women are more comfortable and more likely to be “involved” in their talking, thinking and writing, like about relationships (using more pronouns). Men like to be “informational” in the way they write—about things (using more words that identify nouns, like a, the, that or one, two, more).

Kind of the whole Mars-Venus thing again.

But why does it really bother me? It’s one more way for me to question my writing. If I write like a man, will others—for example publishers and agents—not look twice at me? Will they start to read and think: “This woman writes like a man, feh to her!” Then fling my manuscript to the dark corner of her (or his!) office?

Maybe I’m “too straightforward and informational” as a writer? For years I wrote technical manuals and user guides, writing informational information for informative purposes. Is this the reason? Is it something I can be trained to not do? Maybe go to a de-programming school somewhere to figure out how to get in touch with my female-writing-brain?




Or maybe there’s a support group for gals like me: “Hi, my name is Julia, and I write like a man…”

Or maybe it’s just the way I write, my style, my voice, okay man? When I blog: woman. When I write fiction: man. It’s just how this wacky babe, chick, gal, girl, woman rolls.

How about you? Man or Woman? Do you have the conjones (or is it ovaries?) do find out? Here’s a link to the Gender Genie…let me know!




Cheers,

Julia

Coming Up Blank


Do not attempt to adjust the picture: this is
what it looks like in the mind of wordsxo


For the first time in my almost three months of daily blogging, today I’m coming up blank.
This is a particularly bad thing because just two days ago I started the daily Wordcount Blogathon 2011. And, so, I’m committed to—really more committed to—daily blogging. And here’s the important part: someone may be watching and actually noticing whether or not I’m blogging everyday.

And, if I finish the challenge, I could win prizes. Which in a way is like payment. And, perhaps more importantly, I could develop more readership of my blog. Which is kind of the point.

Okay, I’m not going to get all psycho-analytical here (believe me, no one wants to hear my deep-seeded problems), but I have to wonder why, for the very first time since I started blogging, it’s NOW that I have problems.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t have plenty of ideas, like: why writing is kind of like the slow moving slug I saw on my walk through the Dog Woods this morning, who the heck writes wine labels and why my wine has a first name, why and how I know that I write like a man, Joe the Crow and how research shows that crows recognize individual people, what my lucky letter is and how to figure out what yours is, and of course there are always more stories about the history of my house and gardening, specificially how gardening is a metaphor for the writing process.

I hear you: “Julia, the brief summaries, they don’t sound that good.” 

Believe me, they will turn into good blogs—someday! But not today. Because today I can’t write a blog about anything but this: I AM COMING UP EMPTY, PEOPLE. And more importantly WHY?

Okay, maybe I am going to get a little psycho-analytical (just a little, don’t worry). I will tell you this one thing about Julia Munroe Martin, founder and blogger of wordsxo: I do not like to be told what to do and/or how to do it! Why? Who knows!? I do know that it has caused some issues in my life, things like not being able to sit in a cube in corporate America (I lasted four years) and not liking to be anything but President when I’m in a parent organization, like the PTA (yeah, I’m one of those types). And, liking to write what I want to write, when I want to write it.

So how does this fit into a career as a freelance writer, you wonder? I need to really, really believe in a project or client. And when I do, I produce great results. (It’s one of the reasons I like working with nonprofits.) When I don’t, then eh, not so much, or I quit. I think it’s in my personality profile as an INFJ—I really need to feel invested in things I’m involved in; I’m idealistic that way.

Okay, that’s all; I needed that. Tomorrow, tune back in, when I’ll be back on track with another daily blog—and it won’t be a self-analysis of my blogging habits, I promise! But what it will be? Who knows?

What do you do when you come up blank? Do you have days like I do that you just can’t write about any of your ideas? 


Cheers and on with the day!
Julia

One Bad Chipmunk

Abby’s rebellious streak

Every morning MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I walk our dog in a nearby place I affectionately call (in this blog) the Dog Woods Trail.
Most mornings it’s a simple and beautiful walk, slow and sauntering now that Abby is older: once or twice around the baseball field. We have plenty of time to take in nature’s beauty.

Some days we’ll venture further afield into the woods or to a nearby stream where Abby will take a dip. And then, every once in a while, Abby goes outlaw and ventures onto the baseball field—which technically is not allowed.

I was reminded of Abby’s rebellious streak (which she may or may not have inherited from her human mom) this morning when we ran across someone who in this blog will be referred to as the “Bad Chipmunk.” As in “one bad chipmunk can taint the whole woods.”

Late last fall, the Bad Chipmunk and I had a bit of a run in. In actuality, the Bad Chipmunk yelled at me for having my dog in the wrong place: the baseball field. Now to be completely fair to the Bad Chipmunk, there is a posted sign: “No dogs allowed on field.” But a light snow had fallen, ice was freezing on the covered pitcher’s mound, and the season was a distant memory.

But the Bad Chipmunk—whose own dog, while she was yelling at me, ran over to me, jumped up on me, and grabbed with his teeth (playfully, but still) my gloves while they were on my hands—chastised me for having a dog on the baseball field. She then departed, letting me know in no uncertain terms that she was a steward of the land, and I better behave.

This rebellious human mom may or may not have left an angry note on the Bad Chipmunk’s windshield about one Bad Chipmunk ruining a perfectly good dog walk.

Still, I was so shaken up that when I got home I made several calls: to the neighboring town’s recreation department and parks department and police department (all in one building mind you) who all said variations of: a) they were not the least bit concerned, b) they didn’t know of any self-appointed Bad Chipmunk, and c) the only rule they knew of was that during the sports season, dog owners should keep their dogs off the field. And, of course, “don’t forget to always ‘pick up’ after your dog.”

Which I do. And, knowing there was no rule made it easier to go back to the Dog Woods the next day. But not much.

Now, every time I see the Bad Chipmunk’s car I cringe. And this morning, for the first time since last year’s showdown, I saw the Bad Chipmunk herself….when she called out a hurried “good morning” as she headed speedily down the trail, half-heartedly yelling at her dog to come with her (although he was too busy to listen because he was jumping up on me and nipping affectionately at my now glove-free hands).
MEH rocks the dog walk
As much as I tried, I had the troubling feeling all through our walk that we were being watched. Somewhere, somehow, the Bad Chipmunk from her small woodland home was keeping her eye on me. Knowing I wasn’t doing anything wrong didn’t help one bit.

She’s one Bad Chipmunk. And she almost spoiled the dog walk, until…

MEH did his best Donny-Osmond-falsetto imitation singing, dancing, and spinning through the woods (to the tune of One Bad Apple):

“One bad chipmunk don’t spoil the whole forest, girl,

Give it one more try, before you give up on the dog woods….”


Are there any Bad Chipmunks in your life? How do you keep them from getting you down?

Cheers,

Julia

P.S. In case you’ve never seen it, here’s the Osmonds rendition of One Bad Apple on youtube. MEH’s the one in the middle, rocking the falsetto.

True Confessions in the Electronic Age


I have a confession to make. Last month in a flurry of electronic acquisitions, specifically my IPhone frenzy, I got carried away and let MEH (My Engineer Husband) convince me to buy a Kindle.

We’ve had it now for more than three weeks, but I haven’t read a book on it yet. To be honest, I haven’t spent more than a few minutes even looking at it or exploring it. When I went to buy my last book I couldn’t bring myself to buy a Kindle version. (How could I, it was The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen!?)

For a while, it just sat on the kitchen table, randomly displaying screensavers of pictures of authors and illustrations from books. It creeped me out a little to dine with the various unexpected guests, so finally I went out and bought a case!

Yesterday, I picked it up—more idle curiosity than anything—and realized I didn’t even know how to “wake it up.”

So this morning, when I saw it on my desk in its smart blue and tan case (moved here as part of turning the kitchen table into my fiction workstation), I opened it. I intended to at least wake it up to see the books MEH has been using to try to get me interested.

But the screensaver stopped me in my tracks: an ancient star chart showing the personification of Ophiuchus, a large constellation located around the celestial equator. In the illustration, Ophiuchus is depicted holding a large serpent (Serpens) and standing on a crab.

Of course I had to know more, and here’s what I found out.

Aside from being a constellation, Ophiuchus is in the midst of a heated Zodiac debate. Apparently, due to gradual shifts in the tracks of the Earth, Sun and moon, the star’s alignments have changed. This means that according to (some) astrologers, what you’ve always thought is your Zodiac sign may not be your sign anymore. There are other astrologers who say they just don’t care and won’t change the dates or signs they use.

The big winner of a new astrology sign? Guess who? If your birthday falls between November 29 and December 17, your new sign is Ophiuchus. And even if your birthday is at a different time of the year, your sign may still be different (see the list at the end of this blog). For instance, MEH has always been an Aires, but now he’s a Pisces; I am still a Virgo.

But what’s the point? How does this really have anything to do with my Kindle and specifically my interest in the Kindle? Why did amazon.com use this particular screensaver, weeks before the planet shift was announced? As some bloggers wrote at the time: Did amazon.com predict the planet alignment changes? Or is it simple coincidence (and serendipity) that they used this particular map?

I don’t know. What I do know is this: like everything else about it, the Kindle draws attention and controversy and interest. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m drawn to the Kindle as one more outlet for information and creativity. MEH has been telling me all week about how you can download magazines, newspapers, free books from Project Gutenberg, and much more. (I admit that I tuned out MEH because I didn’t want to hear.)

Just like the typewriter of yesterday’s blog is gone, just like the Sun-Moon-Earth alignment is changing, the Kindle is here right now, and I don’t want to be left out or put my head in the sand. I don’t know if it will be short-lived or long, but by the number of sales (last year, an estimated 4 million), it isn’t going away anytime soon. On amazon.com, Kindle books now outsell hardcover books.

It’s impossible for me to imagine that anything could ever replace the feel of a book in my hand, of turning the pages, of smelling the ink. I still don’t know how I feel about reading on a Kindle, but I’m going to find out. Today I will download my first Kindle book. And I’ll let you know.

Although I’m aware of all the marketing, publishing, library and even writers’ concerns with the Kindle, in this blog I’ve chosen to concentrate on me as a consumer of reading material. How do you feel about the Kindle? Do you own one? Any suggestions about what book I should download? (One of my worries is that I won’t be able to use “worksheet” type reference materials, e.g., in a writing craft book or how to book—does anyone have specific experience with this? Can you print from a Kindle?)

Cheers,

Julia

In case you haven’t seen, and you’re curious, these are the (proposed) changes to the signs of the Zodiac:

Capricorn: Jan. 20 – Feb. 16

Aquarius: Feb. 16 – March 11

Pisces: March 11- April 18

Aries: April 18 – May 13

Taurus: May 13 – June 21

Gemini: June 21 – July 20

Cancer: July 20 – Aug. 10

Leo: Aug. 10 – Sept. 16

Virgo: Sept. 16 – Oct. 30

Libra: Oct. 30 – Nov. 23

Scorpio: Nov. 23 – Nov. 29

Ophiuchus: Nov. 29 – Dec. 17

Sagittarius: Dec. 17 – Jan. 20


Old School Style Blogging

[Click on image to view larger]

Grandma MEH’s typewriter

express.co.uk article about the manual typewriter

The Good-Luck Plan

Last night we rented and watched The Back-Up Plan. (But this blog isn’t a movie review, luckily, because I disagree that this movie is “Laugh out loud funny,” as the DVD cover touts.)

In the movie, the main character—portrayed by Jennifer Lopez—decides not to pick up the “lucky penny” pointed out by her eventual love interest. Why? Because the penny is tail’s up. (But this blog isn’t about bad luck either. Well, not exactly.)

Starting when he was very young, my son instructed me to only pick up pennies if they were heads up—because that’s when it’s lucky. If it’s tail’s up, it’s bad luck. That’s pretty common advice, if you believe in luck as a life plan.

It’s what came next in the movie that’s important to this blog: Jennifer Lopez reaches down and turns the penny over. That way, she explains, it will be a lucky penny for the next person who comes along.

Here’s the important thing: I thought this was my idea. When my son first introduced me to the concept of only picking up coins that were heads up, I devised a plan: whenever I saw a tail’s up coin, I turned it over. That way, just like Lopez’s character, I was creating good luck for the next person who came along.

As a writer this happens again and again. An idea, large or small, is used by another writer, just as with the penny device—although seemingly small, this device turned out to be a major factor in eventually proving Alex O’Loughlin’s love for Lopez.

In one of my WIPs, the penny device is something I use as a tiny example of a character’s larger life plan.

But the point is: this duplication of ideas happens again and again. Kurt Vonnegut addressed this in an interview in 1977 (excerpted From David Hayman, David Michaelis, George Plimpton, & Richard Rhodes’s interview of Kurt Vonnegut in “The Art of Fiction, Number 64” (The Paris Review: Spring 1977, No. 69):

“VONNEGUT: …somebody gets into trouble, and then gets out again; somebody loses something and gets it back; somebody is wronged and gets revenge; Cinderella; somebody hits the skids and just goes down, down, down; people fall in love with each other, and a lot of other people get in the way; a virtuous person is falsely accused of sin; a sinful person is believed to be virtuous; a person faces a challenge bravely, and succeeds or fails; a person lies, a person steals, a person kills, a person commits fornication.”

So, yes, I’ll admit that last night I yelled at Jennifer Lopez (really loudly): “HEY YOU STOLE MY IDEA.” But the truth is, ideas are re-used and re-thought-of and re-cycled: in books, articles, and even in blogs. But that doesn’t mean I can’t use the penny idea, or any given idea I have, because the story I tell will be my own.

And if luck has anything to do with it, it won’t be about the pennies I find, pick up, or turn over, it will be about the luck I make for myself in my own hard work of creating an interesting, meaningful, and memorable story.

Have you ever read a book or watched a movie that used the same or a very similar plot, device or story to one that you were currently writing? What do you think, are there only a limited number of ideas?


Cheers,
Julia


Poof! 3 Writing Wishes!

Poof! 

In a cloud of smoke, a genie appears before me.
“I am the Writing Genie! You have been granted 3 writing wishes.”

I rub my eyes. “A Writing…what?” I really need to get more sleep….or am I dreaming?

“No you’re not dreaming, but, yes, you need more sleep—we all do, we’re a sleep deprived nation.”

“You can read my mind?”

“I’m a genie. We can do that. Now hurry up and give me your three wishes, or haven’t you heard? There are about 52 million other blogging writers out there? I’m a busy man.”

I pause briefly to consider. What should I wish for?
1. At least two hours a day, free of all worry and distraction.

2. A super-duper transcription machine that lets me write down a story just as it is in my mind’s eye.

3. A perfect work environment, with no annoying sounds in the background (have I mentioned my overly-zealous neighbor with the chainsaw?).

Poof! Now the Genie appears before you. You are granted 3 writing wishes….what are they?

The Seed of this Idea

Lately I’ve had a lot of non-writing distractions (not in a good way). Consequently, when I sit down to write I have trouble focusing on anything. My mind is consumed with worry, and it has inhibited my work and creativity.

Yesterday morning I wondered—what would it be like if I could make all that go away, at least for an hour, so that my mind was clear enough that I could just sit down and write. And I wished a magic genie would appear to grant me that wish. Later in the morning I went to the Creative Copy Challenge blog—where twice a week a 10-word challenge is posted—and the idea was born.

Here are the words from Creative Copy Challenge #136, and what I wrote for the challenge:

Words: Lilac, Import, December, Golf Tees, Parchment, Incongruous, Heartfelt, New Client, Bell, Pumps

What I wrote:


Is it possible that everyone is entitled to a second chance? That’s what Myra was hoping, as she bagged up the golf tees that mild December morning. That’s all anyone can ever hope for, thought Myra.


Just then, with a rustle of the lilac bushes, the new client arrived.

“Are you Myra?” The woman in front of the counter handed Myra a rolled up parchment. Myra opened it carefully and read:

Whatever your heart’s desire,

To your own self be true,

Whatever lights your inner fire

Whether red, white or blue…
 


Myra nervously glanced up at the woman. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. How many tees are you buying?”


“Tees? I don’t want any tees my dear, unless you mean camomile teas.”
 


Myra paused. She glanced down at the parchment then back at the woman. Incongruous, Myra thought. Wouldn’t a parchment be brought by a knight or a scribe or something? This woman was dressed to the nines: with a smart navy suit and matching pumps.


“Myra, I am here on a matter of import,” the new client said. “I don’t want any golf tees, whatever those are. I am your Fairy Godmother, and I am standing here before you to grant you the second chance you so fervently hoped for just seconds ago.”


Myra shuffled uncomfortably. “My…my, fairy…”
 


“Yes, Myra, your Fairy Godmother. And please, although my feelings are heartfelt, I simply can’t delay–there are many more on my list. At the sound of the bell, I must have your first wish!”

Myra shuffled again, then somewhere in the distance a bell rang, and Myra made her first wish.


I really enjoy the Creative Copy Challenge site because it gives me a small challenge, limited by space and the given words. I find it opens my mind to ideas I would never otherwise consider. A huge bonus is that everyone who participates is really supportive and fun! Give it a try!


Cheers,
Julia 

3 Things (and more) My Hairdressers Know for Sure

A trip to my hairdresser yesterday reminded me that writing advice and encouragement can come when you least expect it.

“S” has been cutting my hair for 14 years. She works at the small village salon—a ten-minute walk from my house. Yesterday when I went to get my haircut, after the exchange of the usual critical information: her kids, my kids, her husband, my husband, various health related questions, various check-ins on mutual acquaintances, S cut to the chase.

“How’s the writing going?”

I winced. And I tried to remind myself about one of the good things about living in a small town: people care about you.

“It’s okay.”

S was there when I “got close” that time with one of my books, when a publisher asked for revisions, then ultimately decided “it was not quite right for their list.” She remembers that for a while I stopped writing, except the bread-and-butter kind that, well, paid for the bread and butter.

“Just okay?”

“Well, I’m blogging now.”

D, the salon owner, one chair over, looked up from the hair of the octogenarian she was trimming.

“Oh really?” S said.

“Yeah, so be careful, I blog about just about everything.” We all laughed.

Just then V stepped into the scene. V is a relative-newcomer to the salon, and I’ve really only talked to her once. V had the phone in her hand; she told S it was for her.

As I waited, I listened—as I always do—to the conversation at the next chair. I came in toward the middle, where the elderly woman was explaining to D how she had to go to another hair stylist once. (It must’ve been when she was out of town because small town people are loyal that way.)

“I ended up with spiky hair, sticking up this way and that,” the gray-haired woman said, gesturing with her hands. “Gel! Can you imagine?”

I couldn’t, and from the look on D’s face, neither could she.

When S came back, I looked up at her and said: “Why don’t you ever gel my hair into spikes?”

Without missing a beat, S said: “When you get your book published, and need a head shot, that’s when I’ll spike your hair. I’ll bleach it and then depending on your mood, we’ll dye it pink or blue or whatever color you choose!”

We laughed. It definitely broke my somewhat-down mood after the reminder that for 14 years I’d been trying (unsuccessfully) to get one of my books published. I knew that S knew that it was hard to face this little fact year after year, and S knew and I knew that the best way of dealing with it was humor.

After my haircut, I sat in the chair by the desk—where customers go to pay, but also to chat. S sat at the desk.

“So, are you going to write a blog about us?” The question hung in the air.

“I don’t know….you got any advice about writing?”

“About writing?” S said, thinking for a minute. “Keep your pencils sharp!”

“Write from your heart,” D chimed in.

“Hey V,” D yelled over to V, who was on a break and was more interested in People magazine than my blog, go figure…. “You got some writing advice for Julia?”

“Huh? Advice? Well my uncle always says: ‘Never eat yellow snow.’” V apparently hadn’t heard the part about the advice being for writing.

D and S howled. “About WRITING, V!”

“Oh. How ‘bout: ‘Love many, trust few; always paddle your own canoe.’”

I got hugs all around then headed out the door to my car. As I left, I realized that those hair gals know more about writing than they think they do: use good writing tools, write about what you really want to write about, and guide your own destiny.

And the yellow snow? Everyone needs a little reminder about not making stupid choices!


Do you ever get writing advice and support when you least expect it? Do you, like me, sometimes wish you hadn’t told someone you were writing a book?

Cheers,
Julia

“I’d Rather Eat an Earthworm than Blog”

The other day I went to pick up my friend Betsy. She was finishing up a session with a photographer.
“This is my friend, Julia,” Betsy said, introducing me. “Watch out what you say to her or it might end up in a blog.”

This has become a standard joke between Betsy and me, ever since she appeared in one of my early blogs about handwritten notes.

Still, I winced a little. It was true. In fact, at a recent party for MEH (My Engineer Husband)’s birthday, four of the six attendees had been mentioned or made starring appearances in a blog. I don’t think I’m that different than many bloggers. In fact in Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere 2010, 66% of bloggers stated that conversations with friends influence what they write about.

The photographer looked up from the bag she was packing.

“Really? You blog?” She sounded interested, maybe even experienced. I thought I might have actually stumbled upon another blogger! (For the record, since I started blogging, I have not met another blogger—except online—which is pretty surprising since there are an estimated 200 million blogs, according to Technorati.)

“Yes. You blog too?”

“I’d rather eat earthworms than blog.” She said it with a very pleasant smile on her face, but I could tell she was dead serious.

I couldn’t help but laugh.

After I stopped laughing, of course I asked her if she would mind if I used THAT in a blog, and she more-than-quickly gave me full permission.

But the truth is, more than getting a funny line, it gave me pause to think. The more I become immersed in this cycle of blogging-tweeting-blog commenting-retweeting-answering comments-re-retweeting, the more I just assume that everyone is doing it. So I wondered, is that true? (Clearly my new friend, the photographer, would say no.)

Being the naturally curious person I am, I had to find out. The thing I was most interested in was how many blogging writers there are. Interestingly, it is not so easy to pin these numbers down. I searched for about an hour (about all the research time I was interested in investing in today’s blog), and the best I could do was the Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere 2010. Of 7,200 respondents to Technorati’s survey, 33% of bloggers said that at sometime they had worked as “a writer, reporter, producer, or on air personality in traditional media.”

And 26% of bloggers stated that they blog specifically to “get published or featured in traditional media.” I’m assuming that means that those 26% of bloggers are writers, like me. Let’s see…26% of 200 million bloggers, that’s 52 million.

Perhaps needless to say, after reading all these statistics and doing the calculations, I was no longer interested purely for interest’s sake or curiosity, but I was borderline horrified, even terrified. 52 million bloggers, blogging specifically to get published!

Now, I think I’d rather eat an earthworm.

Where do you get inspiration for the things you write about in your blog? From friends, sometimes, like I do? Have you ever had someone get mad at you about blogging about them (Technorati says 7% of relationships have suffered due to blogs but 33% have brought friends and family closer together.). Are you daunted by the number of writers who are blogging to get published?

Cheers,

Julia

p.s. Here’s the link to the full Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere 2010.

10 Things About MEH

MEH on the roof, doing a MEH-y thing

If you read my blog on a regular basis, you know that I get a lot of writing inspiration from MEH (My Engineer Husband). That’s kind of because he knows a lot about everything, especially science. But it’s mostly because we ride the rollercoaster together. MEH is steadfast during the rough times, my soft place to fall, and boy can that man dance the dance of joy.

So, in honor of MEH’s bithday, today’s blog is all about MEH! When I told MEH this, he wasn’t too thrilled because he’s a pretty quiet and unassuming guy who rarely finds himself in the limelight (except on the wordsxo blog).
In fact his exact words were: “WHAT? I thought you weren’t going to talk about any personal stuff in your blog!”
“What did you think I was going to be writing about?”
“I don’t know, maybe writing? Words, word descriptions, talk about books, literary conversations, writing advice. Definitely not about ME!”
“I decided to mix it up, so I expanded to talk about my life, including you.”
“I don’t know about this,” MEH said. “How about if we just give 10 things about me, not all about me?”
“Okay, but only because it’s your birthday.”
So, in honor of MEH’s birthday, here are 10 things I know about MEH (with MEH’s commentary in parentheses).

1. Today is MEH’s birthday; yes he’s an April Fool. And we’re having a party for the first time in many birthdays. (MEH’s commentary: “Okay, but I’m not saying how old I am.”)
2. Before we met, MEH lived in Juneau, Alaska, where he went fishing everyday, wore a leather jacket and rode a motorcycle, and one time he had to use a shotgun to defend himself from a bear. (MEH’s commentary: “I’m so macho. But there was no bear; I did see a bear paw print in the mud once and turned around and went the other way—pretty quickly.”)
3. MEH has a private pilot’s license and used to fly over the fjords of Alaska. (MEH’s commentary: “This is true. And very fun. And the engine quit on me in midair one time.”)
4. When he was a little kid, MEH once walked for three hours to get to school because he got off at the wrong bus stop. When he finally got there, his teacher said: “We were wondering where you were!” MEH, being MEH, was enjoying the walk. (MEH’s commentary: “It was a city bus, and I got wrong directions from the bus driver, after he forgot to let me off where he was supposed to, and I had to carry my trombone, and I was in the 4th grade. The trombone came in handy because I could sit on it and rest. But it’s true, I did enjoy the walk. And it was the principal, not the teacher, and she said ‘Oh my, Oh my,’ over and over again while I was telling my story.”)
5. MEH would give a stranger the shirt off his back. (MEH’s commentary: “Not true. But I would give someone money to buy a shirt. Because my shirts are too old and ratty, so I’d be too embarrassed to have someone else wear them and blame it on me.”)
6. Given the choice between mowing the lawn or almost anything else, MEH would choose almost anything else every time. (MEH’s commentary: “That’s right. Absolutely, including breaking the lawn mower so I could fix it. Which for the record, I’ve never actually done. But it’s been more enjoyable when it broke by itself and I had to fix it.”)
7. One time, thinking it was a brownie crumb, MEH ate a piece of dirt off the car seat. Hence, the expression: “Dad will eat anything, even dirt.” (MEH’s commentary: “One small mistake turns into a lifelong running joke, which I have to admit is pretty funny. And I’m the one who usually says it, and usually they are brownie crumbs.”)
8. MEH knows how to rope a cow and castrate a bull. (MEH’s commentary: “Not too hard to do. But always a good story to trot out in front of the daughter’s boyfriends.”)
9. MEH has worked as a cook, crop duster, stay-at-home-dad, feedlot laborer, bike store dude, waiter, bartender, and assistant librarian. (MEH’s commentary: “Not a crop duster, a swamper for a crop duster, which means I mixed the poison and filled up the planes. And by the way, if you overfill a Steerman with oil, it will coat the pilot’s face with oil. I know from personal experience. Makes for a long day.” MEH chuckled heartily after this one.)
10. MEH’s favorite book is The Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett. (MEH’s commentary: “The movie Yojimbo by Kurosawa was based on this book. I also like The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck and short stories by Gogol and O. Henry.“)

MEH’s parting words: With all this flurry of writing lately, have you submitted to Sparkle Worm yet?“ (My commentary: It took me a minute, but then I figured out what MEH was talking about: “You mean Glimmer Train?“ I am not making this up.)

Do you have a MEH in your life? How does he or she inspire and/or encourage you?

Cheers,

Julia

p.s. Happy Birthday D.M.

Wanted: One Mug

I broke my favorite coffee mug this morning. I put it down in a precarious place on the edge of the kitchen counter, and when I wiped off the counter, I went a little too far and whisked that mug right onto the floor!


Little did I know last week when I took the picture of my desk for my blog posting, that it would be the last, maybe only, one of my mug. Now I’m glad I have it. (Not that I make a habit of taking pictures of my mugs, or any of my other dishes, for that matter.)


It’s just that I have a particular attachment to my coffee mug. I use the same one every morning. In the afternoon, when I heat up leftover coffee, I use a small jelly jar. In the evening for tea, I use a large green glass mug.


But in the morning? It’s always the same small white and blue flowered mug. Because I’m a creature of habit that way.


It will take me a while to find a new one. I’m very particular: it has to be on the small side because I like to take lots of trips to the kitchen for refills, and I never fill it up more than half way to make sure that I’ll need a break soon.


In truth, I’ve had several great mugs over the years—a few better than others, but once broken all hard to replace. One other favorite we got when we first moved to Maine was striped blue and white with white and blue clams, fish, and starfish. Another favorite—a tall narrow cup from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts—was adorned with lovely, graceful blue irises.


For a while I’ll use a stand-in, with many to choose from, but none seem quite right. I’ll take my time to find my new morning companion. Because I’m picky, but patient that way.


And until I find one, please…


Be on the lookout for a mug fitting this general description.


1. It must be narrow, preferably curved, to fit the hollow of my left hand, so in winter I can hold it against my chin or my chest while I think, look out the window, and ponder what to write next. But it should not be so narrow that it would stand out as being its most obvious feature.


2. The walls of the cup must be thick(-er than thin) because that will keep the coffee warmer longer—particularly important because I add milk to my coffee, but I like to drink it when it’s very, very hot.


3. The handle needs to be wide enough for two, preferably three fingers, but narrow enough for flexibility in handling. This is of particular importance when I’m carrying my laptop to another room—so I can take my coffee at the same time. But it’s also important when I hold the cup against my chin (see #1). And when I hold my cup with my right hand (which is purely utilitarian for actually drinking the coffee), I need the versatility of grabbing it by the handle or slipping my thumb or two to three fingers through the handle, while cupping the cup in my hand.


4. It most probably should be white with a predominantly blue design or pattern: flowers or fish or some other entertaining picture or print (but definitely not words). This gives me something to think about when I stare at my coffee cup instead of off into space.


5. It must have a sturdy, steady base that is well weighted and can balance on a stack of papers, on a couch arm, a pile of books, on the roof of a car, or—yes—even on the edge of a kitchen counter. Because I’m clumsy that way.


If you come across a mug of this general description, please alert @wordsxo as soon as possible. Your help is greatly appreciated.


Are you particular about your coffee or tea mug? Or is there something else you always need to have with you when you write? Are you distracted, like I am, that way?


Cheers,


Julia

# MillionWordChallenge

Writing challenges—that’s all I seem to think, read, and even write about lately. And, apparently, I’m all about the challenge.

When I started this blog, my daily goal was to write 900 words a day (not counting blogging). Last week I was discouraged to realize that I had fallen (very) far short of that goal. In fact, in the interest of full disclosure (which for some impossible-to-understand-even-to-me reason I seem to need to do in this blog), since I started blogging, I have written approximately in the neighborhood of around about 4,235 words—okay, really it was 4,125. In a little under seven weeks. 45 days. Which is about approximately somewhere in the neighborhood of a measly 91.67 words per day….or almost, kind of, about one-third of a page. At this rate I figure, if I change my goal to writing a novella, I could finish a first draft (based on a low word count, according to wikipedia, of 17,500 words) in about 190 days.

I have to do something. But what I ask myself? Then I notice: a writing challenge on Twitter. Once I opened my eyes to them, they were suddenly everywhere!


  • Then, I read about another challenge on Making “Baby Grand.” On her blog last week, Dina Santorelli invited readers along for the ride, fast and furious, as she writes 1,000 words a day. It took me a day to consider, but then I decided: I’m so there. I’m in. In a month I could just about finish my WIP!


  • Then yesterday, I stumbled on the 10,000 word a day challenge on the blog Fear of Writing—yes 10,000 words in a day: about 28 pages. Do-able? Hey, it’s a challenge! Sure, why not!?

  • Finally, I considered the kahuna of challenges: November Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) during which—apparently—I will experience “30 days and nights of literary abandon,” so it says at the top of their website. By then, after all the other challenges, I’ll be on Novel #2, maybe even #3, right? It’ll be old hat.

And you know what, I’m doing them all! The #1KWordChallenge every Thursday and the 1000 words-a-day everyday starting April 1st and the 10,000 word challenge this Thursday AND Saturday, and NaNoWriMo, too.

Plus, I’m upping the ante: I’m issuing my own challenge. That’s right. It’s the million-word challenge in 24 hours. That’s fourteen books in a day. Go big or go home, that’s what I say. You in?


Cheers,

Julia


p.s. How do you motivate yourself to write? Do challenges help you, like they do me? Does blogging slow your other writing down?

Accepting the Throwdown!

Dear Jenny and Amanda,

Ever since I started blogging, my WIPs have suffered. I’ve visited them occasionally, but we’ve drifted apart in the last six weeks. And I miss them. My best fiction friends, Annie and Maggie, are more forgiving than real friends might be. But that only makes it worse. Maybe if they were calling and emailing and knocking on my door, I wouldn’t have such an easy time ignoring them so much.

So, the other day when I read about your #1KWord Challenge Throwdown on Read. Write. Suffer, I decided this was just the thing I needed to kick myself in the rear to get going again.

To quote Jenny’s blog:

So, Amanda (from Amanda’s Wrinkled Pages) and I have been challenging each other to a type of literary throwdown. Last Thursday the challenge was to write 2000 words but there was no time limit, the next day 1000 words again with no time limit. It worked really well and helped both of us be less lazy with our writing and produce, produce, produce, so we decided to make it a recurring challenge.

You asked: “Who else will join in?” And here’s the best part: anyone who participated would tweet their word count and start and stop times to you!

This idea really appealed to me: a) I love a challenge. b) I would need to be accountable to someone. c) I had to do something!

So, this morning I say thank you from the bottom of my heart. Great challenge! Great idea! In case anyone missed it on Twitter, here is the tweet I sent Jenny when I was done with my challenge:


@jetchez Start time 11:07 a.m. EST, 1027 words, end time 11:35 a.m. EST. #1Kwordchallenge Thanks for giving me a great push!


What I didn’t tweet was this, in addition to the challenge, yesterday I also wrote a 960 word blog and a writing prompt on Creative Copy Challenge!

So, although we’ve never met, I wanted to write you this letter to let you know that yesterday was a great writing day, motivated by two great bloggers. Thank you again so much!

When’s the 2000 word challenge?

Cheers,

Julia

p.s. Have you checked out Amanda Hoving’s and Jenny Torres Sanchez’s blogs? (They will not disappoint!)

Have you ever participated in a writing challenge? How has it helped? Are you ready to join the #1KWordChallenge or #2KWordChallenge?

The Mystery of The Blue Bags


One of my favorite books when I was growing up was Harriet the Spy. I read it the summer I went to horse camp with my friend Jane. We wanted to be Harriet the Spy, and Jane kept a notebook about the other campers. Of course when someone found the notebook, life imitated art, and we were ostracized by the other campers. It was pretty miserable.

But this early experience did not daunt my interest in mysteries—fictional or real. As a child I read every Nancy Drew, and during my teenage years I went on to read every Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot book Agatha Christie ever wrote. As I got older, I moved on to any and every mystery I could get my hands on. I don’t read quite as many as I used to, but I still love a good mystery.

In fact, the truth is, I just want to know why. Not just in a mystery book, but in real life, too. I like to figure things out and get to the bottom of things.

Like why is one of the houses in our neighborhood only occupied for three months of the year. Is it true, like everyone says, that the husband is an international pirate? That they own four houses around the world? Who knows?! I don’t, but I sure want to.

Or the mystery of the blue bags. Why are there neon blue bags melting out of snow banks all over our neighborhood? Dozens of them. Some have dog poop in them, sure, left by tired-of-carrying-them dog walkers, no doubt. But others? Empty. Flung by a disgruntled newspaper carrier? Who knows! But again, I want answers!

And I’ve pulled MEH (My Engineer Husband) into my mysterious life, too. One day this winter, when we went to a nearby Starbucks, MEH and I sat in our car drinking coffee. It was a super cold day, around noon, but because it was so cold not many people were out.

A shiny new, silver Mercedes SUV pulled in, two parking spots away. A tall, young, attractive man in blue medical scrubs got out, holding a small, flat amazon.com box.

He stood for a moment by the SUV, fishing around in the box, finally pulling out something—we couldn’t see what—and threw it into the back of the SUV. Then, he closed the car door and walked purposely down the sidewalk, away from Starbucks. With the amazon box firmly in hand, he made a bee-line for a nearby trash can that was almost directly in front of our car. With his back to us, he opened the box, and shook it over the open can—something fell out, we couldn’t see what. Then, mission accomplished, he turned and walked swiftly back to his SUV, tossed the box inside, and continued on, into Starbucks.

So intent, he didn’t notice us, a mere six feet away: sitting in our car, sipping coffee.

“What do you think that was?” I nudged MEH, whispering. (I don’t know why I always whisper. Standard conspiratorial practice, I suppose.)

“Who knows. Packing material.”

“No way. He’s hiding something!” MEH hasn’t read as many mystery books as I have, so he has no idea how many secrets there are all around us.

I nudged MEH again. “Go see what it is! Hurry before he comes out!”

“NO!” MEH is a curious guy, too, but he has his limits. “It’s nothing. Just some packing paper.”

“It’s something more. And you know it. Why a public trash can? He’s hiding something. What if it’s needles? He’s a doctor!”

“Julia! Forget it. If you’re so curious, you go.”

“I can’t go, what if he sees me? I could be in danger!”

“He should find me instead? Oh, ok!” MEH opened the door and got out, still mumbling something about “nothing.” (Later, I asked MEH why he eventually gave in. And he said that, as usual, he got caught up in the swirl.)

I watched as MEH approached the trash can. He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out some imaginary piece of trash. Then he leaned casually over the trash can, looking intently down, and flicked his piece of imaginary trash inside. So convincing! I smiled with pride.

Quickly, he turned, and strode back. Wide-eyed, he got back in the car. He closed the door.

“I’ll be darned. You were right. He is hiding something.”

“Needles? Drugs?”

“No. Porn.”

“What?”

“Yep, porn.” MEH laughed. “I can’t believe you were right that the guy is disposing of evidence.”

“Evidence?”

“Yeah. Now that’s a mystery. He buys the stuff then throws it away. What’s up with that?”

“It’s his son’s or…he’s a sex addict. I mean, who wants a brain surgeon or…worse… a pediatrician that’s a sex addict, for god sakes?”

MEH started the car, and we drove home, discussing the possibilities the whole way. One mystery solved, with many more opened. And I just want to know why. But unlike Harriet the Spy, Nancy Drew, or Miss Marple, I may never figure it out. Or will I?

I got home, sat down at the computer and started to type:

“The Mystery of the Blue Bags

Maggie sat in her car outside Starbucks. It was sub-zero cold, and she hunched over her latte, inhaling the heat. A brand-new silver Mercedes SUV pulled into the next parking place over. A tall, handsome man in blue scrubs got out, holding a small, flat amazon.com box. He fished around in the box for a minute then threw something into the backseat of the SUV….”


Cheers,

Julia


p.s. Are you like me, do you love a mystery? Are you inspired by the mysteries around you? What stories have come out of things you’ve observed?