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New Year, New You

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The decisions I have made this year (with the plan to actually meet these goals).

1. I will write for at least ONE hour. Every. Single. Day.
2. I will finish my manuscript. Finally.
3. I will not take it personally when I am rejected by an agent.
4. I will start taking pictures again and I will post one every day to Instagram. (Find me at jess.becker)
5. I will flex my creative muscles in new ways.
6. I will learn a new language.
7. I will travel to a new place.
8. I will stop beating myself up for not being able to do everything.

Okay, now I’m off to work on #1. What are your goals?

Planned Creativity

Being creative is hard work. It takes time and motivation. Did I mention how much time it takes? Seriously, I never really thought about how difficult it is when you are so out of practice. Sometimes I need to stare off into space for a bit just to get started. And there’s nothing worse than staring at a white screen/paper/whatever with nothing to put on it. It’s been months since I’ve drawn, photographed, or written anything. All my creative energy is getting sucked out by the classes I teach. By the time I get home, I’m either drained or all my time is accounted for by my kids. Sometime around 8:30 I plop myself in front of the computer and expect a miracle to happen. I’m still waiting for the miracle to happen…

But I have some plans up my sleeve. I’ve decided that maybe I need to embrace the fact that I teach photography and have all these resources at my disposal that I never really take advantage of. And, I’ve been super into creepy horror books/TV/movies. Hence, a creepy photo series that I really want to attempt and maybe even a few short stories that accompany them.

Anyways, the point is that none of this will happen without some serious planning on my part. This goes back to my Filling the Well post. I got myself a new notebook (I sort of think I like the new notebook part of the planning the most), some pens and highlighters, and a new Pinterest board. I really wish I would have started this before my Winter vacation started, so I could actually see my progress. Then, I am (I really will this time) setting aside two hours every other day that are mine. In those two hours, I can either write, take pictures, or blog. I can’t search the internet, read email, or get stuck on Pinterest boards–that’s all couch time when I’m too tired to do much else. I’m also setting a goal. In two weeks, I will post my first photos AND a short story. Ok, you all get to hold me to it!

What do you want to do? Make a plan. Set a schedule. Tell us about it in the comments and we’ll hold you to it too.

To Write or Not to Write

Well, let’s face it…I’m good for a post a month. It’s a very sad reality that I write so little and so infrequently these days, but in a lot of ways it’s for a very good reason…

See that, I was just gone for 20 minutes because I was asked for a smoothie, a snack, and to read the directions on some homework. In my deluded years, I was under the assumption that when my kids grew a bit I would be gifted with some free time. I thought that if I wasn’t changing diapers, then I must, I must have all sorts of extra time for me. Boy was I wrong! I sit down less now than I did then.

Since writing takes an enormous amount of time–at least it does for me–then I can safely say that it is firmly on the back burner these days. That doesn’t mean I don’t do it all, it only means that I don’t have large blocks of time like I once had before. Oh nap time, how much do I miss you? But, The Novel is in the process of yet another rewrite, which I think is both a good idea and a bad idea for various reasons.

Anyway, that’s my gripe. In the meantime, I’ve done an enormous amount of reading–it’s something I can take with me wherever and whenever. In the last month I’ve read: Maggie Stiefvater’s, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, Stephanie Perkins’s, Isla and the Happily Ever After, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber, and Rick Yancey’s, The Infinite Sea. I’ve also been on a bit of a short story kick so I’ve also read Stephen King’s, Just After Sunset, and Roald Dahl’s, Tales of the Unexpected.

All of these books are phenomenal in their own ways, but a couple did stand out–Isla and the Happily Ever After is a story I will gladly read again and again. I loved it that much! I laughed, I cried,and I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters for weeks after. The same happened with Outlander. When I finished it, I watched the new series on TV. It’s turning into a little bit of an obsession right now. And the books average 800 pages a piece. I may be on them for a bit. Whenever I read Stephen King I feel a little like I’m being schooled. Stephen King was one of the first authors I ever really got into to and I never fully appreciated how well they were written until now. I love picking apart his writing–the pacing, the characterization, the settings that totally come alive–and learning something new every time.

So what do you all read when you don’t have time for anything else?

Filling the Well

Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? It’s no surprise I go on these little blogging hiatuses whenever life gets a bit too cumbersome. But this has been a long one I think. So, what have I been doing you ask…let me tell you all.

My fearless daughter broke her wrist while trying to follow the big kids on their bikes over what she thought was a hill–a nice, rolling hill that deposited you safely on the other side of it. This was no such hill. It was a dirt jump with a sheer cliff on the opposite side that immediately propelled the rider into a hole. Sounds menacing doesn’t it. Anyway, her bike tumbled over the edge and a day later we learned that she broke her wrist while doing it all. That pretty much killed our summer. My big plans of “Try New Things” quickly became lots of “Not-So-New-Things.” Eight weeks later and we are firmly in soccer season with all my time sucked up with practices and games that conveniently never happen on the same fields and with times that often overlap each other. Whew!

Needless to say, some things have taken the backseat for a bit. So, what am I going to do since I really don’t have much time to write or blog or anything that requires thinking in large gaps of time? I’m FILLING THE WELL. This is something I’ve often told my students is a necessary part of the creative process, yet I’ve never really done it myself. Wow, I’m such a hypocrite. Filling the Well is simple really. It requires a sketchbook or a notebook or anything you can collage and write into. It requires books. Lots and lots of books. Good books, bad books, whatever. Music. Art. Photography. It requires finding inspiration and putting it someplace you’ll remember it. And it needs to be tactile–I need to be able to tuck this notebook under my arm and carry it with me wherever I go because inspiration and ideas happen in the strangest places.

An example: I went to a farmer’s market over the weekend and while there, a woman with long brown hair and mismatched clothes stood in a corner and sang. She had bells on her ankles that jingled when she moved and a man beside her that played a sitar. Her voice was hypnotic. She was also Romanian, which is the ancestry of one of my characters. I never could fully picture this character in my head and she always felt a little forced. Then, I saw this singer and it all came together. Since I had my notebook and a pencil, I quickly began sketching little things I noticed about her. I also took some pictures.

Filling the Well is such a simple concept that we often forget how important it is. There are so many ways to stay motivated, to be creative. What do you do?

Trying New Things

IMG_2818One day, late in the afternoon, I made my way into the grocery store. Dingy walls, low light, stale coffee. People streamed by. No one made eye contact. A few of them kept their eyes glued to their phones while they somehow navigated the store. My kids tugged on my hands, begging for their iPads because somehow in the last minute they got bored.

The day was beautiful, as is typical for Southern California, but no one seemed to see it because they’re used to it–that, and they’re usually plugged in. I’m a victim of it myself. I feel lost without my phone. I use my iPad at night to research random things. I’m ALWAYS on a computer.

Something had to change.

So, I made a promise to my kids and a promise to myself. If nothing else, we will try new things this summer and we will stop being lifeless drones dependent on electronic entertainment. I started with a list. It was a long list. I counted the days we had left of summer and the number of things on that list and started to fill in a calendar. Not all of it is fun–I had to include well-checks and dentist appointments and car servicing and even a few days of household chores, but overall it was an impressive list. I loosened my self-imposed writing deadlines and other goals. I was spending 5+ hours on the computer everyday and getting pretty unsocial and grouchy while doing it.

Yesterday, we went rollerskating. I haven’t gone rollerskating since I was thirteen. and the place hasn’t changed in all those years! My kids loved it. They fell and got back up and then fell some more. The day before that, we went rock climbing. Of course, doing things like this gets really expensive really quick so we’re going to have to sprinkle in some beach days and days at grandma’s pool, but in the last week my kids and myself have been excited to get out there and just do it. And the iPads haven’t been touched once!

Writing the Unpublished Novel

If your ultimate goal is to write the “published” novel then you’re probably asking yourself why you should bother reading this post? Well, I’ll tell you why…
writing the unpublished novel is as important as writing the published one. It’s the stepping stones, the learning curve, the I’m-not-ready-but-I-have-to-do-it-anyway process. I’ve read countless books on how-to write a novel. Some were great. Some were not. I’ve read agent blogs and writer blogs and every book blog I can find. They all say the same thing: KEEP WRITING. It’s true. The more you write, the more you learn.

I look back to the first book I attempted to write. It was about 5 years ago and was about witches living in Fairbanks, Alaska. I have no idea what it was really about, but I did finish it. I excessively edited it, all the while realizing that it was simply no good. Before long, I started book number 2, which was about a girl who could feel the emotions of others. I actually kind of liked that one, but still it wasn’t great. Then came number 3, a book about a fallen angel. Yeah, I know, been there done that. And I knew that. Still, I queried it for all of 2 weeks and let it go because of that. Ok, now I’m on book 4. That book flowed out of me in a matter of 2 months. The editing process was much longer because of working full time and life with kids, etc. I’ve also started number 5. And though it is still a daunting task, I learned enough to understand basic plotting structure and to PLAN.

I’m a planner. There is no way around it for me. The first 2 were written by the seat of my pants and though it was exciting, they were awful, awful. Editing them pained every part of me. I also gained several critique partners and beta read for several more. I had my own beta read and critiqued by people that weren’t family or friends. I took workshops and participated in contests. I put myself out there to be poked at. And believe me when I say that some of it was a brutal experience with a very sharp learning curve. Thankfully, as a former art student, I am no stranger to criticism. I took it and continued writing. I looked back at some of my older writing and I felt so good. Try it. It’s awesome to see your own growth!

The moral of this long post is to find what works for you, but never stop learning.

Monday Musings

photo-2Happy belated 4th of July everyone!

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 9.12.23 AMWhat I’m reading: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. I should change that to what I (already) read. I finished this book in 12 hours. I couldn’t put it down, literally. I disappeared from my family for most of the day and swallowed this book whole. The gist: Hannah Baker kills herself. But before she does it, she mails out 7 audiotapes with herstory of WHY she did it. And she has a list of everyone that needs to hear it–basically, everyone that somehow played a part in her final decision.
For those of you that don’t know, I teach high school. This story touched me in a way that was so real and so important and something I really think every high schooler should read. It makes people aware that little things can have an enormous impact on someone. It can change a person’s life. It can create a snowball effect that was never meant to happen. These circumstances (bullying) that Jay Asher used were in every way realistic and I see them happen more often than I’d like.
Seriously, go read this book!
What I’m doing: Writing, writing, and more writing. And reading, obviously.
What I’m listening to: Ms Mr, Secondhand Rapture¬†Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 9.11.55 AM

Monday Musings

Another hectic week with myself and the kids home for summer, but always nice.

Screen Shot 2014-06-29 at 5.57.37 PMWhat I’m reading: City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare. This is the last book in a 6 book series. I have loved every one up to this point so I have no doubt City of Heavenly Fire will live up to my expectations. I’m really excited about every minute I can steal away to read.

What I’m doing: I am beta reading/critiquing for someone. This is really hard to squeeze in when I’m trying to write myself, but I feel it’s an important part of growing as a writer. Editing someone else’s work gives a perspective I often lack when I am editing myself. I look forward to the day when this person is published and can share her amazing stories with the world. I’ve gotten some questions about beta-ing so maybe that’ll be a post I’ll have to write in the near future.

Oh, and I’m also writing. I wrote my first 2000 words this morning on a brand new manuscript. I can’t even describe how good it felt to be writing again.

Screen Shot 2014-06-29 at 5.57.09 PMWhat I’m listening to: Slightly Stoopid, Slightly Not Stoned Enough to Eat Breakfast Yet Stoopid

Monday Musings

Ok, I know it’s not exactly Monday anymore, but I was getting so good at posting every week and I didn’t want to let it just pass. Let’s see then, what am I up to this week??

What I’m reading? I am still plugging away on Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly. I’m not used to a book taking this long for me to finish. I can finish a book in less than a week. I like it that way. I don’t even think I’m at the half way mark on this one and I’m getting dangerously close to setting it aside. I feel like I’m reading a history book. There’s isn’t any dialogue, but there is a whole lot of play-by-play battle tactics. Yesterday, I found myself talking to my husband about Stonewall Jackson and the saying “stonewalling someone.” He had this look on his face like he was talking to a stranger. He was definitely amused. This book feels like some sort of weird conquest for me.¬†

What I’m doing? Well, it’s officially summer in the Becker house, so I’ve got two kids, two dogs, and two chickens to contend with. The kids are in swim lessons for four days a week with gymnastics sprinkled in on one of those days. I can already tell that I will have to be utterly creative to keep the kids off the computer on all the time in between.

I’m also still plotting away on my most recent project. I’ve given myself three days to get this done. Today is Day #2. The beginning is well plotted, and the middle/end have the key points in place, but I still need to connect it all together. The characters are developing nicely too. I’ve been really dissecting the books I like this last year and trying to figure what it is that makes a story memorable…it’s the characters. Books with good characters stay with me forever. If a book has flat characters, but a great plot, I’ll love the story, but I’ll never read it again and it’s gone from my memory in a week. So more than anything, I’m spending time on these characters. I want to love them and I really think I will.

What I’m listening to? Jack White’s newest album, Lazaretto.¬†