Pencils Down, Anxiety Up

Big projects can be hard to finish. Hard in that. . . “I’m losing steam and I just don’t know how to actually finish this project kind of way”. But also hard in the OMG “What am I going to do when I’m finished?” way. That’s absolutely what I’ve been feeling. I feel like I’ve graduated from college and have just realized I have NO JOB PROSPECTS. Remember that feeling? I’m being dramatic – but it’s tricky to go from a day full of very scheduled work to a day of, “hey, maybe there’s something good on LifeTime!” Obviously there are always things in life to get back to, and if you are lucky and have the time there are books to read. But it’s just another reminder that freelance life is full of some wild ups and downs.

What do you do when you’ve finished a big project and haven’t started another yet? I’m going to throw myself back into the blogosphere and twitter, think about new projects, and hope to get excited about something new soon!

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The Wrong Kind of Criticism Can Really Kick Your Ass

I love picking out books to take along on vacation. I just got back from a wonderful week away with my family where I ultimately read Sarah Water’s The Little Stranger, (creepy good fun) but this wasn’t my first choice. As I was looking at the books on my shelves, I came across Marilyn Robinson’s Housekeeping, and wondered why I wasn’t more familiar with it. It’s become a classic, I generally love family stories, and I’ve always been attracted to symbolism about water (I’m convinced this comes from growing up on one of the Great Lakes). It seemed like the kind of novel I would love and like a perfect travel book, since as a bonus, it’s rather slim. Happy to have found something, I sat down for a couple of minutes just to read a few pages. I was intrigued, but suddenly remembered I had read it before, and I didn’t have fond memories of Housekeeping at all.

While I didn’t get very good grades in high school, I surprised myself by doing very well during my first semester of college. I loved my classes and for the first time felt very engaged and excited by learning. But then I signed up for a Women’s Fiction seminar. It sounded innocent enough. We were going to read Barbara Kingsolver, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and of course Marilyn Robinson. I read novels all the time, so I figured reading novels for a class would be simple, or at the very least enjoyable. Apparently not. I still remember how uneasy I felt in that class. I read the books faithfully. . although in the class they were suddenly referred to only as “texts” – hello! Pretentious! Amy, the graduate student who taught the class found everything I said trite – I wasn’t digging “deep enough into the text.” They were novels, and quite good ones, but did that mean we had to analyze them to death? I was never sure what she wanted, and the harder I tried the more I floundered. But the real reason I will probably never enjoy Housekeeping comes from what happened after my first exam. I had read every book and come to every class – I was confident I understood what occurred in these books, yet I got my exam book back to find that I had received a “D.” Ouch. I will never forget approaching Amy, (who wore Frye motorcycle boots by the way) and asking her about my grade. I didn’t think it was possible that the grade reflected my understanding of “the texts.” Her response? “Well, you probably do understand them. It’s just that you can’t write.” WTF? Now, I’m fairly certain I write better now than I did then, but is that any way to talk to a student? Until I came across that copy of “Marilyn Robinson’s text” I had completely forgotten about that conversation, but what I do know is this. I’ve always been careful about how I give criticism to writers. I’m always honest but gentle – and if I permanently spoiled a novel for someone, I’d be pretty sorry.

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I Want a Role Model!

This fabulous woman would be a great role model. . if she were real.

I was just reading Penelope Trunk’s (aka The Brazen Careerist’s) How To Be Lost With Panache, which I stumbled upon at the perfect time, because I had just started writing a section of my book about “being stuck” and I completely understood her need to turn to soothing things. . . such as New York Magazine to get her through tough times. I’ll be the first person to admit that “being stuck” while writing a book is, in the whole scheme of things, not such a big problem. But the more I thought about it, and the further I got along in the chapter, the more I was able to see that getting stuck while writing isn’t all that different from getting stuck in real life. You can’t think, you can’t come up with any decent ideas about what to do. . going out for a simple as a cup of coffee feels like a major life decision. Should I make coffee at home? Or should I get some fresh air? Because that might be nice. Or will that take up too much time? Is it going to rain? You get the picture. But then her post mentioned something that got me off the coffee track right quick. She mentioned that Tavi Gevinson of The Style Rookie, the only just about to enter high school fashion blogger, was her role model. She’s real, she’s a dork and she’s smart. What’s not to love? I thought long and hard about who my role model would be, and I just wasn’t sure. How can I not know who my role model is? I feel I must remedy this immediately. I’d like someone who was funny, smart, successful and being Midwestern would be a bonus. Definitely something to think about, and fyi, I’m accepting suggestions!

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When You Can’t Seem To Follow Your Own Advice

All work and no play had made these ladies terribly dull!

I had big plans for this week. I was going to be crazy productive. I was going to stockpile some blog posts, spend some time on Twitter looking for new people to follow, catch up on blog reading, write two chapters of my book, email people I met at blogher, and finally deal with my ever growing slush pile. Instead, this is what I’ve accomplished:

• Found a new pizza place in my neighborhood that I think is far superior to the one we currently frequent.

• Purchased stovetop espresso maker.

• Attempted to make a latte.

• Failed in attempt to make a latte.

• Watched an anxiety-provoking episode of Grey’s Anatomy (or maybe three).

• Confirmed that new pizza place is definitely superior.

In other words, I have done nothing productive, and as a result I feel awful. The “big deadline” is looming ever closer, and I can’t afford to waste a single day. I’ve worked with writers for a long time, I know we all need and deserve breaks, so this begs the question, “why can’t I follow my own advice?” As of Monday at 11 a.m. it was clear that I needed a break. I was showing all the classic signs! Opting to vacuum instead of sitting down to write, making lists of household tasks that I somehow convinced myself couldn’t be put off a single second longer. Vacuuming the curtains? Really? When I finally did try to write, it took me about 45 minutes to write one truly terrible sentence. So why did I insist on torturing myself? Why couldn’t I do what I would tell other writers to do, which is quite simply TO GIVE IT UP FOR AWHILE? I mean, the world is not going to come crashing down if I watch a couple of episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. Nor is it a total disaster if I decide to see a movie, read a novel or eat more pizza. What is a waste of time, is making myself miserable and forcing myself to work when clearly everything I do right now is just not going to work.

Today I finally did it. I went out and got a couple of new books, went out for coffee and read like a regular human being. I didn’t feel guilty, I just enjoyed myself. I had a decent latte, and you know what? I’m pretty sure that when I write this afternoon it’s going to turn out just fine.

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Comfort Books

After starting and stopping what feels like several thousand books, I’m pleased to report that I’ve happily settled into one.  I’m reading Second Honeymoon by Joanna Trollope.  Have any of you read her novels?  I’ll just say right now that she’s probably more of a women’s read (and oh, more on that later – some recent blog posts have my mind reeling), so her subject matter might not appeal to guys so much, but if you haven’t read her books you’re truly missing out.  Her books take place in England, usually in a small town – but they have a homey yet sophisticated feel.  She takes on everything from infidelity to sibling rivalry.  Second Honeymoon is about a mom whose last kid has flown the coop, and she’s freaking.  Her books are funny, smart and utterly charming.  She’s also written seventeen of them (last I counted), so it’s great to know there’s always another one on the shelf for you to read.

I'm positive that everyone in Joanna Trollope's novels lives in an adorable cottage just like this one.

I realized today that Joanna Trollope has become one of my “comfort reads.”  One of those authors you turn to in either times of turmoil – when you need a book to take you away from whatever is going on in real life, or on the flip side, when all is just swell but you’re not connecting with anything.  I open up one of her novels, sit back and am instantly  absorbed – don’t even try to talk to me.  So thank you Joanna Trollope!  I have a few authors and books that are on my list of “comfort books,” but I’d certainly like to add more:

  • Joanna Trollope
  • Laurie Colwin
  • Mary Cantwell
  • Carol Goodman
  • Cheryl Mendelsohn
  • The Great Gatsby

Do you have books or authors you re-read when things are rough?  I’d love to know!  Like I said, I’m always anxious to add to that list of mine.  It’s a little bit shorter than I’d like it to be.

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When It Feels Like There Is Nothing To Read

Firstly, let me start off by saying there is obviously ALWAYS something to read.  There’s usually too much right?  But have you ever been in that awful place where nothing sticks?  You just don’t know what you’re in the mood for?  You can’t get into anything and you’re stuck starting about 9 million books and you feel like you’ll never connect with anything ever again?  That’s where I am right now.  Honestly, I don’t have much time to read since I work at home (read loads on the subway when I had an office job) and I have a 2.5 year old and they really don’t let you read much.  But when I have a book that I’m really into and I manage to read a chapter here and there, life is a little bit better.  Books are kind of like Klonopin, or yoga (probably not really, but hey, it’s another excuse not to exercise) – they’re relaxing.  I just got back from a conference, and I’d love to settle in with a book for awhile, but nothing is capturing my attention.  I just finished Jonathan Tropper’s amazing This Is Where I Leave You and Wendy Webb’s totally creepy and fun The Tale of Halcyon Crane (which incidentally, I also blame for a new almond latte addiction).  Totally different books, but I loved them both, and now nothing is measuring up.  So, can I blame Jonathan Tropper and Wendy Webb for the fact that I’m watching a lot of reality television?  An obvious idea is to read the rest of Mr. Tropper’s books right away, but here’s another weird thing about me – I want to save them and dole them out over time.  Do you know what I mean?  You don’t, and think I’m a total freak right?

Irrational I know. But I blame the quality of this book for my addiction to reality television.

What do you guys do when you can’t find a book that keeps your attention?  Resort to old favorites or classics?  Beg friends for recommendations?  Eat 5 dozen donuts?  Watch the entire John Hughes collection on VHS?  I’m getting desperate here.

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What I Learned From “The Twitter Tutor”

I know what you’re thinking.  Why would you take advice about Twitter from a blogger who just put her blog up a few days ago and only has 15 followers right now?  Okay, to be fair, my other blog ad hoc MOM has lots more, but it certainly doesn’t have thousands.  Let’s just say Justin Beiber has nothing to worry about.  But this is why you should listen to me.  Up until a few months ago, I didn’t even have a Twitter account.  But when I co-founded ad hoc MOM, other bloggers pointed out that we were missing out on a huge opportunity if we didn’t jump on the Twitter bandwagon.  Unconvinced it was good for anything other than updates on who was enjoying “a fabulous glass of cabernet”, I decided to take a class on social media at the Columbia School of Journalism.  I learned a ton, I steadily gain followers every week, and I rarely lose them.  Slow and steady wins the race people!  And as Professor Sreenivasan aka “The Twitter Tutor” said, it’s not all about numbers.  So what is it about?  And what should you be doing to increase the presence of your brand?  Let me break it down for you, because if done thoughtfully, Twitter is a great way to branch out, make new contacts, collect good information, and build a platform.  Have I mentioned yet how much publishers love an author with a platform?  Well, they really do.

This entire family is desperate to read your tweets!

SATURDAY MORNING MEMOIR’S TWITTER CHECKLIST

Tweet about 3 – 5 times a day, never more than once an hour.

Think about it.  How do you feel when you see the same picture in your Tweetdeck five times in a row?  Make yourself a little bit elite people!  Get everyone excited to see your tweets.  I admit I’m reluctant to follow someone who has a history of tweeting very frequently.

Limit your tweets to 120 characters

The class was worth it JUST FOR THIS BIT OF INFORMATION.  This makes it easy-peasy for someone to retweet you.  If your tweet is longer, people are going to have to mess around with your tweet first.  Who wants to take the time to do that?  Make yourself easily re-tweetable!

Provide interesting, relevant and timely information.

People just don’t want to know that you’re drinking a cup of coffee – or that you’re going to bed.  Seriously, is their anything less necessary than the “goodnight twitter!” tweet?  If I see a great article, blog post or bit of information that’s going to be interesting I’ll tweet if to my followers.  And I know I’m all about following someone else who does the same.

Be generous, be very very generous.

This was the best lesson I learned from the class.  Social media is all about being generous!  If you retweet something, take a minute to be careful and credit the person who sent the original tweet.  I know it helps me get more followers, and therefore more traffic to my blog when I get the coveted RT, so I’m sure to do the same with others.  Take the time to be careful and make sure you’re giving credit where credit is due.

If you want to check out more about social media, and all the crazy good stuff it can do for you, visit Professor Sreenivasan’s website http://www.sreetips.com/.  There’s also information on his classes, seminars, etc.

And I so hope you’ll follow me at @memoirista!  If you have any questions about Twitter, email me, I’ll do my best!  paula@morningmemoir.com

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