Editing Cave

I stole this from A.S. King, because it’s brilliant (as is A.S. King).

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The Universe at Large conspired to pack the month of April with all variety of stress and activities so my goal of finishing rewrites by April 30th has been woefully under-accomplished. Final stages of editing are always harder. It’s not like the early drafts when your primary concern is getting scenes down and fleshing out characters. Now everything has to work. And you don’t move on until it does.

As Tiffany Madison said: “While writing is like a joyful release, editing is a prison where the bars are my former intentions and the abusive warden my own neuroticism.”

Hence, I am in an editing cave. I’m not coming out to blog unless someone’s dying.

Writing Spaces and Scarves

It’s hard to justify writing time to the people around you if you’re not, in their eyes, a “professional” writer. And by that I mean you’re bringing home a paycheck for your efforts. Until then, writing takes on the visage of “hobby” instead of “actual job.” People think it’s okay to bother you as you’re clacking away at your laptop, family members will complain that you spend too much time on the computer, and pretty soon writing only happens on your “days off.” (That’s a lot of scare quotes in one paragraph; is my sarcasm being properly conveyed?)

A few weeks ago, I was at Utah’s amazing “Writing For Charity” event and went to a panel about deadlines. It started off kind of jokey, about procrastination and generally how writing makes you crazy, lots of elbow nudging and I-been-there raised eyebrows at each other. But then Shannon Hale goes, in this simple, matter-of-fact voice, “I rarely miss deadlines. I don’t mess around with my writing time.” She went on to explain, not in a bragging way, that even with four young kids, she was more productive than some of her writing friends who had no kids.

I have to say, there was a slight shift in my vision, like suddenly my struggling writer mind (which resembles a clenched fist) wrote X’s over the other writers on the panel and drew a circle around Shannon Hale as the type of writer I wanted to emulate. The kind that gets shit done, in other words (except she’s a nice person who probably never says words like shit).

This means make a ritual, create a space, carve out time, give precious hours up to writing as a humble offering, and then guard that sucker like a medieval warrior. But what if you live with five other roommates (like I do), or you’re a single parent with three kids, or don’t own your own computer, or have three of the sort of weirdly intuitive cats that lay on you keyboard just as you’re starting to write?

Here I use the advice of another writer I listened to at Writing for Charity, Maryrose Wood, who said that life ought to be a ceremony (isn’t that lovely?). She said, somewhat lightly, that perhaps you could have a special writings scarf that you donned whenever you needed to write.

Illustration by Fukari

Illustration by Fukari

This, I think, is a marvelous idea. It’s the equivalent of Clark Kent taking off his glasses to become Superman. One minute, you’re a regular person, with bills and responsibilities and insecurities, then you strap on that scarf and transform into Writer Extraordinaire.

Let me share my ritual with you, since I’m rarely able to write in the same place at the same time two days in a row, such is my hectic existence. I get my Diet Mt. Dew. Much like the Pavlov dog experiment, my brain now literally equates this drink with creative time. I pray for silence, but since that’s rare, I plug my headphones into Orson Scott Card’s Pandora channel “Writer’s Trance.” He’s carefully weeded and trimmed this channel so only classic music plays, and nothing robust or distracting, but almost like lyrical white noise.

Then I put on my purple scarf (which I also spray with lavender occasionally, so my brain further is triggered by this smell, knowing that it’s about to be put to use by writing). The scarf was given to me by a dear friend in Hungary, her favorite, so I’d remember her. Then I plug Anti-Social into my computer. Since I write a lot of historical fiction, I find myself using Google a lot while writing, otherwise, I’d use Freedom. But the list of sites Anti-Social blocks for me is very long. Basically I’m allowed Google and Wikipedia, and that’s it.

Then I write.

And it works. For me, it works really well. So do whatever you have to do, but at least take your writing time seriously. Take your need to tell a story seriously.

Give it 100

So, tentatively, without much confidence, I have mentioned in passing that I used to be an artist. Here is the short story of my artistic career.

In middle school, I watched the show Lizzie McGuire and saw that little cartoon that represents her thoughts and said, “Anyone could draw that.” So I drew an entire comic of Lizzie McGuire cartoons intended to look like me and my five friends going on awesome adventures. When I moved to a new high school as a freshman, I kept drawing, doodling in my notebooks during class and letting people see them.

Soon, that was who I was. I was the artist (the cartoonist, actually). I drew the cover of our yearbook. I won a painting contest for the town phone book cover. I was the Art Sterling Scholar. When I attended an art camp during my senior year, I was offered a scholarship to the college hosting the camp. In those shaky years of adolescence and insecurity, I clung to both an identity (The Artist) and the constant praise I received.

I went to college as an art student . . . and slowly had the artist strangled out of me. At the end of the day, I was a decent artist—but not particularly amazing.

(I still liked cartoons; I did stuff like this):

Hearts_by_missjak

Diamonds_by_missjak

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clubs_by_missjak

Spades_by_missjak

 

 

 

 

 

 

My tiny bit of talent was no match for my lack of ambition or innovation. Suddenly I was surrounded by hundreds of “The Artist”s and instead of feeling praised, I felt hugely inferior.

Break out the tiny violin, right?

Obviously hard work and criticism are part of life. But I felt miserable, grudgingly doing my drawing assignments, spending my free time not drawing, but . . . you guessed it: writing.

And, oh man, I had no talent for writing. No one had ever praised my writing skills. In fact, I deliberately hid any signs that I wanted to write because I was too massively embarrassed by it. But I adored it. Hard work? I am loving every miserable minute! Criticism? All I want is to publish something before I die and I’m young and healthy.

So, the rest is history. Now I’m a writer. Not an artist.

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But I miss it. Not so much being an ~*artist~*, because I’m still not sure I’m cut out for it, but I miss drawing cartoons. I miss giving visual faces to characters I love (in my head and not). And I still love art—enjoying it as a viewer.

Have you heard of “Give It 100?” It’s a nifty little site where you can pledge to do something, anything, for 100 days, ten minutes every day. You’re supposed to video those ten minutes and post it, buuutt . . . I’m not doing that. I’m just stealing the idea. I’ll be stretching the ol’ drawing muscles, doing a drawing a day, seeing if I can’t get my pencil and sketch book back into shape.

I’ll be posting the drawings on DeviantArt in batches of ten, and using this amazing site to help me practice. And this time, there’s no pressure; I’m not doing it for the attention or praise. I know I’m a writer and that’s where my heart and soul is. This is just fun.

Blog Updates

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The bloggie is getting an update.

First of all, this site will stay a personal, rambling blog that no one has to follow if they’d prefer not to endure said personal rambling. I will be slightly less concerned with a rigid writing theme and an even rigid-er (yet never quite attainable) schedule.

The domain ‘mckellegeorge.com’ will be used for an officially official site devoid of my ramblings, still in the works, but I predict might be up by the end of the week.

Lastly, my “Morpheus Series” will get its own separate site, so any fans have somewhere to look if they so desire, but since it’s sort of a separate endeavor from all my other work, I figure the website should be separate as well.

Stay tuned for imminent changes.

In Which I Attempt to Read All Seven Harry Potters Next Month

So this past New Year’s was just me and my little sister. We had two bottles of this super nasty sparkling non-alcoholic wine (red grape and white grape, if I’m remembering right). When midnight hit, we shook them up like crazy and then raced onto the back porch, flinging foaming grape juice everywhere while Frozen’s “Let it Go” blasted on full volume behind us through the open door. Not gonna lie, it was kind of exhilarating screaming, “THE PAST IS IN THE PAST!” while swinging trails of juice around us as we danced in circles. Fireworks were going off in three different places around us.

But all of that lasted about as long as the song, and then we were left slightly sticky and holding two empty bottles. “We should make resolutions,” I said, “and then shatter the bottles.” My sister’s eyes widened. “Yes.”

We were by no means rebels, but I’m from a super small country town and there were plenty of empty parking lots to use, with abandoned, weedy fields to catch errant shards of glass. Anyway. Nervous and hyped up, we found a parking lot and shut off the jeep’s lights so nobody could see us. “So,” my sister said. “I’m going to get a six-pack this year.” (For my incredibly athletic, soccer-star little sister, this was a feasible option; not so much for me. I have a writer’s doughy build and I regard crunches with the same nose-wrinkle as I do all green vegetables). I lifted mine and said, “I’m going to try one new thing every month this year.” Then we threw the bottles down and ran away giggling.

The month to month “new thing” is variable, but basically I’ve seen it either as a new habit/practice to try for 30 days, or simply doing something I haven’t done before. This month, I’ve vowed to read all the Harry Potter books.

Again. For the record, I have read them.

The other day I was in a publishing lecture, and someone asked the speaking editor what she thought about the Potter books’ climb from MG to YA to Really Upper YA. And she said that she thought it got away with it not just because the books were good, but because lots of readers were 10-11 when the first book came out, and so they literally grew up alongside Harry Potter.

I was one of those readers. I was eleven when I won a paperback copy of the first book as the prize for a drawing contest. The last scene with the mirror and Voldemort scared me a little. And the last movie came out when I was 21, so my entire transition from childhood to adulthood was tainted by Harry Potter. He’s like a long lost cousin or something. But I’m not a Potterhead. I read each book once as it came out, and also the book right before it to give myself a refresher, so that means I’ve read every one twice, except the last one (upward of six years ago, wow). I haven’t seen any of the movies. (Oh, wait, that’s not true. I did see the sixth one with a friend in the theaters.) To be honest, I barely remember the bare bones of the story. And I think half of what I know is simply media exposure.

So I thought: I should read those again.

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I mean, why not? I feel like I should if only because books are my business, and also because the experience will probably be wholly different now as an adult than as a growing-up adolescent, not to mention reading them all in one condensed time instead of spread out by years and years. So March, prepare to be Potter-fied. Anyone want to join me?

Social Media, and Why I Kind of Hate It

So I have a problem. The problem is I’ve been getting the impression that I need an author platform. And I have no author platform. I don’t have . . . one of those. Things. That you need to have. In order to sell books.

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This is not an advice sort of post, but more a Raised Question to the Masses post. I fully submit that I don’t properly understand social media. My author platform is that I really, really like telling stories guys, and I sure do wish you’d read them and like them too.

But here’s my other problem with collecting hordes of followers. The only authors I follow on social media, I do so because FIRST AND FOREMOST, I wanted to. Nobody cajoled me into it with prizes or promised reviews, nor was it a group herd effort that moves through and likes everything in sight, regardless of content. Secondly, I wanted to follow those authors because I first liked THEIR BOOKS, THEIR WORK. The trajectory wasn’t Clever Tweet, then Follow. It was Content, then Follow, then Enjoy Clever Tweet.

And call me crazy, but I don’t want someone to sign up to hear what I have to say, unless they want to. If someone likes my Facebook page, I want them to actually  LIKE me or my books.

I’m not saying social media doesn’t help. Look at John Green or Neil Gaiman, who are social media wizards. But all these different platforms are just tools. We decide we need to use them to sell books then run around trying to figure out the best way to do it. This does nothing without first having something to sell, something worth selling.

Take a look at the top 100 people on Twitter by follower count. Now, how many of them are not independently famous outside of Twitter?

As Tim Grahl points out: Social media is not a way to grow your “fame”, it’s a reflection of your fame.

Secondly, a big enough following simply does not equal more book sales. 

Here are a few examples (taken from Grahl’s article):

  • In a book launch last year, a Twitter following of well into six figures resulted in a couple hundred book sales.
  • A few months ago, a friend had someone with well over 1 million Twitter followers promote his book at a great time of day and it resulted in no noticeable bump in book sales.
  • In multiple tests across many social media accounts, it’s a normal thing to get well under 1% – more like 0.25% – of your followers or fans to take action on a given update. This is just clicking on a link, much less converting to a sale.

And guys. Let’s be real here for a minute. Some of us, true introverts at heart, are not good at social media. Your reluctance, your plugging out posts as a chore, comes through. Not all of us are socially adept, even with the helpful cover of a screen. My opinion is either do it well, or don’t do it at all. Crappy, awkward Tweets, Posts, and Blogs don’t do any more for you than No Tweets, No Posts, and No Blogs.

But I don’t want to completely bash social media. I like it for a lot of reasons. Twitter I like not for promotional benefits, but for the making-friends aspect. Because you only have 140 characters and everyone is limited in the same way, people are much more likely to respond, and you can have quick fun conversations with people that really otherwise might not have answered. ONLINE FRIENDSHIP IS REAL. I really believe that. I don’t like the mass strategy of it all, but I certainly like the one-on-one strategies that come into play.

THE TOP REASON I LIKE SOCIAL MEDIA: It’s important to share the things we love. Yeah, there’s always that person clogging up your feed with useless crap, but I love, love that if I read a really swell book, or I find an awesome independent musician on YouTube, or just anything that makes my heart happy, I have a scarily effective way of sharing that with people I know and like. I also like having amazing things shared with me. It would be a bummer to miss out on something beautiful because I’m disengaged from the advantages of having such instantaneous communication.

That’s how it helps you sell books. But first, you have to write a good book. Something that people will want to share, whether or not you’re needling them to do it.

So, friends. I could use some followers. So my publisher will still think I’m worth publishing. But don’t do it . . . unless you want to. (;

Some thoughts on Love Day

Writing prompt: level Valentine’s.

When it comes to love, I can basically sum up my experience with this video:

But even as a single during this time of single awareness, I still appreciate that we have a holiday specifically devoted to celebrating love. And so, for this week’s post, I share some rambling thoughts (helped by PostSecret), on love.

Beautiful:

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We ascribe a currency to our words. If you look at a sandwich, and you say to that sandwich, “Dear god in heaven, has anything more beautiful graced our mortal earth?” then you turn to the person you love and say, “You look nice,” they will think they have all the attractive qualities of a wilted piece of lettuce.

But then imagine standing next to someone, both of you craning your necks back to see the luminous display of the aurora borealis, your own frosty breath swirling around your heads like a heavenly cloud, and this person says (behind a yawn), “Well, this is certainly above average.” And then they look at you, with a whole new expression, and say, “You look nice.” Suddenly, your face is more mesmerizing than a rainbow collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in high altitude atmosphere.

Daydream:

daydream

So much of what I think about love is defined by expectation, not experience. But all of us, saturated by books, movies and television’s portrayal of love, expect something of the same. We enter movie theaters separately but emerge two hours later as one, with the same experience, same guided emotions, and the same moral. A million schools teach as many curriculums, a million churches feature ten thousand sects with twenty times as many sermons—but the same movie shows in every place. And we all see it.

Daydreaming about love—in all aspects, physical and emotional—seems to be pretty common. But what about romantic daydreaming? Do you stop daydreaming once you’ve found a partner who fulfills everything you need? A daydream is a break from reality, but most of the time, my present is not so bad, but I do this anyway. Sometimes, if I have a romantic fantasy, the guy takes the place of the Subway cashier who smiled at me that day, or if I don’t have an immediate crush to fill the role, then he just becomes a faceless dark and handsome substitute.

And I wonder how damaging it is, really. Is it just a natural, healthy response to loneliness? Or a simple expression of aspiration and the desire to make things better than they are? (Or nothing—actually nothing). Or, since your daydream can be whatever you want, filled by the expectations of movies, are you setting yourself up for constant disappointment, and as a result, more loneliness?

Heart:

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The symbol of love is the heart. A hundred times some realist will always point that our actual hearts look nothing like the red, romantic shapes. But part of the reason this organ gets the honor of representing love is because that’s where we so often feel it, there in our chest—in the hammering pace when we feel attraction. Actually, though, it’s our blood. It makes us warmer or colder—when our heart is racing, more blood is pumped more rapidly through our bodies, an influx causes a sensation in our chest. Too little, and we lose our breath, dizzy, since less oxygen is moving through our veins. There’s no way to symbolically represent blood, except like, a squiggle? So the heart was the next logical choice.

Probably a good thing. Imagine comforting your sniffling friend. “I have broken blood,” she cries.

“Just follow your blood and you’ll do the right thing.”

“I promise, from the bottom of my blood.”

“You’re so nice, you have big blood.”

“We need to have a blood-to-blood talk.”

Loyalty:

Loyalty is the best L-word. Better than love. The crowning characteristic of love is always loyalty.

In the mid-thirties, a traveling salesman (he specialized in jeans and Western gear) walked into a shop in Trinidad, Colorado, hoping to make a sale. When he saw a stunning young woman working at the counter, he asked her out for a Coke instead. They went on a couple of quick dates before he got back on the road. He continued traveling and their courtship unfolded almost entirely by mail. They married in 1939 and remained madly in love until he died in 2001.

This is from one of his letters:

Darling:
Si, dear, I just know that someday you are going to be very successful. I don’t know why, but somehow I have all the faith in the world in you. Some people go through life without having any ambition or ideas, and you are full of them. Your new idea sounds grand—much better than a fox farm or even the Trading Post and camp idea which was very good. Your idea for having a children’s wear store with a sort of Alice in Wonderland or Mother Goose set-up is just swell because it is novel, and this seems to be an age when novel ideas or anything that is just a bit “different” goes over big. BUT (there always has to be a but) an idea like this would take an awful lot of capital for it couldn’t be put over in half measures. That is the main drawback. The idea of having midgets as clerks isn’t so very practical. You might have one or two as a special attraction, and then regular clerks just petite girls. But darling I think it is a grand idea and I think you are simply marvelous for being wide-awake enough to think of it. Did you have anything definite in mind? Let me know what is what, dear.
 

This, to me, is the most beautiful picture of what love means. Someone always behind you saying, “That is sensational, darling.” Again, and again, until you have to believe that at least they believe it. Even when you know are not sensational. “That is the most daring and spectacular C on an exam I’ve ever seen.”

I guess you want someone to challenge you, too. Be honest with you. But lots of people will do that. How many will tell you you’re sensational? Is it so unbelievable to think that you might be so greatly admired that constant support and compliments would be genuine? It is the reassurance that you are never alone. Loyalty is the anti-Loneliness, not love, since love is contained within loneliness, like webbing between these two ideas. You can love and still be lonely.

Loneliness:

notalone

One of the tragic ironies of life is that we all feel so separate from each other by the very feelings we have in common. The first time this occurred to me was secondhand, when someone else said, I feel like I was born another planet, delivered here by accident. And my good friend Donna told him, Well, we all feel like that sometimes.

I almost asked, “Wait, really? Everyone? Not really, though.” I knew that feeling; it was like watching a fleet of ships travel together, fast and full of purpose toward the horizon, while my dinghy of a boat was tut-tutting in another direction, passed by and unaware of the destination anyway. But it was possible no one was in the fleet of powerful, impressive ships—the thought had just never occurred to me.

Marriage:

“I don’t know. What love? I think it’s a habit. We didn’t have any love. We went out, we walked around. True love is only on TV. We didn’t have that. We had friendship, we lived happily, we loved each other, we shared life’s endeavors. That was our love.” – a 71 year old woman from Siberia, Russia, interviewed by 7 Billion Others.

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On nearly everyone’s top five expressions of ultimate love (I have asked), you will find *~the dishes~*.

Doing the dishes is the sum of all romance, the first brick in every road to forgiveness. What is it about the dishes—I mean particularly?

Even with roommates, of which I’ve had plenty—it’s never the trash or the vacuuming that gets noticed, it’s the dishes. I now do my dishes very efficiently and well, but it’s not because I’m a particularly tidy person. Over the years, I’ve responded, like Pavlov’s dogs, to the pleasant chime of praise and affection when I do them.

It really is romantic. And so, I’m wondering, if romance isn’t really just kindness, but given a different name when considered with courtship and marriage. I feel like what I’m really saying when I say I want romance is that I’d like a steady stream of kindness in my life.

Soul mate:

According to Theosophy, whose claims were modified by Edgar Cayce, God created androgynous souls—equally male and female. Then the souls split into separate genders, perhaps because they incurred karma while playing around on the Earth, or “separation from God.” Over a number of reincarnations, each half seeks the other. When all karmic debt is purged, the two will fuse back together and return to the ultimate.

I don’t actually believe in soul mates, mostly because I consider myself an intelligent person and intelligent people don’t believe in soul mates—despite the occasional evidence to the contrary.

Except this one time I came home after a generally awful date and I threw my purse at the wall and I figuratively screamed at the universe, “Where are you keeping the other half of my soul?! Cough him up! Where is he?!”

Or she. Does your soul mate have to be the person you’re intimate with? Discovering your best friend is a little like falling in love (so says Elizabeth Wein). Or maybe a sibling is like a soul mate. I believe there are people you’re bound to meet, who you’ve probably already met in some way before you “meet” them again, and they’re people who bring you to your own attention so you can change your life.

But do you marry them? I think sometimes, you do. But sometimes you don’t and it’s not that great a loss.

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Bashert is a Yiddish word that means “destiny.” It is often used in the context of one’s divinely foreordained spouse, who is called “basherte” (female) or “basherter” (male). Nowadays, Jewish singles say they’re looking for their bashert, meaning they are looking for that person who will complement them perfectly, and whom they will complement perfectly. Since it’s considered to have been foreordained by God whom one will marry, one’s spouse is considered to be one’s bashert by definition, independent of whether the couple’s marital life works out well or not.

So yes, I do believe in soul mates, but I don’t think it’s synonymous with true love. True love you choose. For children love is a feeling; for adults, it is a decision. Children wait to learn if their love is true by seeing how long it lasts; adults make their love true by never wavering from their commitment.