My levels from bottom to top: bubble tea, watch a movie, order dinner out, get a massage, free day off

4 Motivational Tools for Writers

One of the most difficult parts of writing is establishing a routine. One piece of advice I heard as a beginning writer was that I should write every day, no matter what. That advice is repeated as gospel in workshops, on convention panels, in writing advice books. I don’t believe that writing every day is the path for every writer–it doesn’t take into account writers with families and day jobs and can create a lot of anxiety and guilt for writers who struggle with mental health and may not always have the energy–but a routine that allows you to get in as much writing as you possibly, personally can is a great tool.

But let’s face it: sometimes internal motivation just isn’t enough. (Like that week when watching every Harry Potter movie in a week seemed like a better idea than writing, for example.) For those times I take to using external motivational tools.

Different motivational techniques will work for different writers. For me, a technique will work for a brief period, at which point I find I need to switch to a new system, or to take a break from systems altogether. Because of this, I’ve tried a lot of different methods. Here’s a few to sample for yourself.

1. Beads in a Jar

My friend Katie Crumpton first told me about this one. I like it because it offers rewards at various intervals, which helped me immensely with the long slog of novel-writing (since writing novels doesn’t offer as much immediate reward as, say, short stories, where you finish and feel that sense of accomplishment sooner).

To take advantage of this technique, first get a bag of beads from a craft store. Then paint a series of five or so lines up a jar. Assign a different reward to each line. Every time you accomplish a writing task–writing so many words in a day, submitting a story, updating your website, attending a conference, etc.–drop a bead in the jar. When the beads reach the first line, reward yourself with the first reward. When they reach the second, reward yourself with the second reward. Continue until you reach the top, then dump out the beads and begin again.

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My levels from bottom to top: bubble tea, watch a movie, order dinner out, get a massage, free day off

2. The Check-In

When I started working on my first novel, I entered into an agreement with a friend of mine, Karen Bovenmyer, that every Monday we would email each other our goals for the coming week and would give a rundown of our accomplishments for the week previous. This helped me immensely with that initial motivation. Now, two years later, we’re still emailing nearly every Monday, and even if I no longer need external motivation, I love hearing what she’s up to.

3. Marking a Calendar

This technique works best for me to track how productive I’m being in a particular period of time. This one may also be the simplest: get a yearly calendar and mark every day that you write.  I also mark any days on the calendar where I know I won’t be able to write with an X. This helps me when I’m trying to finish a particular piece, writing so many words every day; knowing which days I won’t be able to write helps me calculate how many words I need to write those other days.

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I used a free calendar and penguin stickers to mark days when I wrote

4. The Magic Spreadsheet

I haven’t personally used this one for any length of time, but I have heard from many writers that it helped them immensely. The Magic Spreadsheet was created by my friend Tony Pisculli and exists in a series of massive Google Spreadsheets. To check it out, join the Google + group here or the Facebook group here, where they release a new sheet for each month.

Serving to gamify writing routine, the Magic Spreadsheet allows you to track the number of words that you write each day. You must write at least 300 in a day to earn any points. If you write more, you get more points. You level up as you earn points.

There are no external rewards in place here, but if you’re a competitive person, the points alone may do it for you. I’ve also heard of some people who reward themselves when they level up.

Mur Lafferty talked about the Magic Spreadsheet on her podcast I Should Be Writing in 2013.

Award Eligibility 2016

It’s that time of year again, when people like me rush to catch up on all the fiction we’ve missed throughout the year in order to nominate them for various awards including the Nebula, the Hugo, the World Fantasy, the Tiptree, etc. Lots of great stories this year. I’d be honored if you’d consider one of mine.

Thus, the annual Awards Eligibility Post. There’s just one work I present for consideration for the year 2016:

In the Novelette Category

The Orangery (December 2016 | 8,700 words | Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Eligible for Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, etc.

In several myths, women turn into trees to escape unwanted sexual advance. I combined three of these stories to tell my own story, an exploration of the cruel treatment of women in mythology.

The Orangery is a haven for these women-turned-trees, watched over by the Guardian. When Apollo breaks into the Orangery looking for Daphne, the Guardian must fight him–and make sacrifices in the process.

This one’s received some great reviews, with the following nice things being said about it:

Other People’s Work

Or: this is not an exhaustive list of everything I have loved this year, and I am still catching up on so much reading!, but here are some places you might start with if you are like me and working through All the Fictions

All the Birds in the Sky | Charlie Jane Anders | Tor | Novel

Anders combines sci-fi and fantasy to create a clever story of witches, AI, and apocalypse.

Summerlong | Peter S. Beagle | Tachyon | Novel

Well, we’ve established that I love retold myths, so Beagle’s retelling of the Persephone story is right up my alley.

A Fierce and Subtle Poison | Samantha Mabry | Algonquin | Norton YA

Beautiful magical realist YA novel about a boy who falls for a teenage girl rumored to be poisonous to the touch.

Sooner or Later Everything Falls into The Sea | Sarah Pinsker | Lightspeed | Novelette

I love Pinsker’s stories about musicians’ lives after the dissolution of society. This novelette is one of my favorites from the year.

Every Heart a Doorway | Seanan McGuire | Tor.com | Novella

This one explores what happens to children who, like Alice or the Pevensie kids from Chronicles of Narnia, have visited other worlds but are now not allowed to return; they’re sent to a home where they try to heal (and some try to go back any way they can).

This is Not a Wardrobe Door | A. Merc Rustad | Fireside | Short Story

I’ve been shirking on my short story reading this year, but this was one of the stories I read and loved, which, like the above, plays with portal fantasy tropes in a brilliant way.

Bogi Takács | Bogi Reads the World | Fan Writer

Love Takács’ reviews of works from marginalized authors and was excited to see their reviews given their very own space here.

Sarah Gailey | Women of Harry Potter | Tor.com | Fan Writer

Gailey’s series about the oft-underappreciated women in the Harry Potter world are brilliant–and part of my inspiration for re-watching the movies and re-reading the books.

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“The Orangery”–Beneath Ceaseless Skies (plus some photos of trees)

Today my very first novelette publication released online for free reading! “The Orangery” is available at Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

This one comes from my fascination and repulsion with women-turning-into-trees narratives. I say fascination because I have always loved trees. For years I have taken photos of beautiful trees when I travel. In college I used to find patterns in bare branches: women’s faces, mostly, and when I felt a darkness creeping in each winter, I looked to these patterns for comfort. (When I told my mom about the women I saw in trees, she said, “You see them too?” I have inherited her strange world.)

The women in mythology who turn into trees often do so to escape unwanted sexual advance or assault. That is where the repulsion comes from. Although I have always loved trees, I never felt like these mythological women were being gifted this new form. Instead, I felt like they were being punished. As if they were being told, you can either accept every advance that comes your way or opt out of a human life altogether.

In “The Orangery,” I made a place for these women-turned-trees, the Orangery of the novelette’s title, a walled-in grove watched over by a Guardian who tend to the trees’ wishes and lives out her life within the woods. But when Apollo breaks through the wall to find and reclaim Daphne, the Guardian must fight him–and make sacrifices in the process.

Read it here.

Some Photos of Trees

to both prove my point and because maybe you love trees too, I don’t know

ceskykrumlov (11).jpgI took a trip to the Czech Republic and mostly came home with photos of trees; this one is in the village Český Krumlov

Zoo (3).JPGIt may look like I was photographing this tiger, but I was probably most excited by the juxtaposition of tiger and tree

100_1565Tree with arm-like branches in Oklahoma

100_0209Crumbled tree on Wood Island on Lake Texoma

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Self-Care for Witches

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I’m part of a pretty badass local creative community called Spiderweb Salon (started by the talented Courtney Marie and Conor Wallace). Every year they put on various creative showcases for local writers, performance artists, musicians, visual artists, etc. They also host zine-making workshops and various other meet-ups. I’ve loved being part of something that aims to create a community where people can come together without judgement and share what’s near and dear to them. That community has been particularly important to me in times of darkness.

For the past couple of months, I’ve been struggling with depression. There’s been a lot of change going on–some good, some not-so-good–and, like many, I don’t handle change well. I was feeling pent-up and frustrated when Spiderweb’s last zine-making party came along. I went because I needed to write something, needed to finish something, needed to be part of something that wasn’t me in my room fighting my cats for use of the computer.

Spiderweb’s zine-making parties take place in a living room strewn with typewriters and pieces of pre-cut paper. You go in, type up your poem or story or draw your artwork, then leave it alone. I like going in and working with a total of two drafts: one hand-written on paper to make sure it’ll fit onto the page, the other typed. There’s something therapeutic about not revising for days, not workshopping.

The theme of the last Spiderweb zine was The Spell Book. Here’s the piece I came up with: first the scan from the printed zine, then the cleaned-up version below.

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how to be happy: a spell for the sorrow-ridden witch

i. eat a tbsp. of cayenne every morning. mix with triple-filtered water (to ensure the ghosts are gone).

ii. repeat your mantra in the shower. the water knows when you are telling the truth, when you believe your straining voice. if you lie, you will feel a surge of burn. let that burn remove the first layer of your lying skin. rinse the dermis. repeat.

iii. eat one eye of roach. pop as you would one of those pills your dr. gave you, the ones you never took. bonus: your apartment will be one roach cleaner.

iv. sneak into your old lovers’ bedrooms. place both your hands on their cheeks and suck any last affection they have for you from their chapped lips. this is how you will love yourself again. get it all, every last whisper.

v. keep your fear and anger inside until your arms are hot to the touch. empty that fever into a cast-iron soup pot. cook the mixture until it is thick as glue. feed it to the barista who sold you shitty coffee in Arkansas.

vi. leave your apartment. walk down sidewalks and step on every crack. when you reach the woods, venture off the path. walk until your thighs burn. but not the burn of water and not the burn of anger. you need to get out more. you need to be a better person. when was the last time you went to the dr.? too long ago or too recently. get lost in these thought, until they make you shake. these thoughts will call the troll to you. offer him your hands, to smell but not to eat. you know him. you recognize his lips. you recognize his gait. you recognize your favorite shoes and favorite dress, the one you wore the last time you were happy. you recognize your chewed-off fingernails. face him head-on. call him every name you have ever called him, every name you have ever called yourself. let him swallow you whole. he will keep you bottled until his troll hands and arms grow hot. then he will let you go.

 

 

 

(witchy disclaimer: these are all terrible ideas. do not engage in troll-summoning w/o the expertise of a professional. do not eat that much cayenne without the expertise of a culinary sorcerer. make sure roaches are free from pesticide. get old lovers’ consent before sneaking in: they may be happy to be rid of old feelings. get help when you need it.)

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7 Best Collaborations Between Writers and Artists

On Saturday October 1, Art on the Boulevard in Fort Worth, Texas, will display the work of 12 writers and 12 visual artists working in silent collaborations with one another’s work for the FIFTH annual Art & Words Show. Holy shit, guys. I’ve been curating this thing for five years. I couldn’t be more proud and psyched.cshd9upuiaao_ne

Art & Words started out as a project for my MFA in Creative Writing from University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast Program. As part of the requirement, I had to write an academic paper related to the project. I chose “A Brief History of Collaboration.” It’s a long, academic-style paper that no one really wants to read. Basically, the best part of the whole thing is when I talk about cool writer-artist collaborations. I’ll just skip the boring parts.

So there you have it. Below you’ll find what I think are the 7 Best Collaborations Between Writers and Artists. (With all those pesky caveats: there are so many damn cool collaborations I haven’t found yet. Leave links in the comments if you want me to check one out!)

1. Dennis Ashbaugh and William Gibson’s Agrippa

Agrippa is an artists’ book containing a semi-autobiographical electronic poem on a floppy disc programmed to encrypt itself after one use. The project was conceived and created by painter Dennis Ashbaugh and fiction writer William Gibson. The book pages were treated with photosensitive chemicals that faded when the book was first exposed to light.

In the Art Journal article “Interactions Between Artists and Writers,” Ashbaugh said that “the notion of preserving one’s own artistic identity on a project like Agrippa would…seem absurd in retrospect.” Gibson agreed: “In an optimal collaboration, the collaborators enter a territory influenced by (as Mr. Burroughs has it) ‘the third man.’ Like Mr. Burroughs, I regard collaboration as an inherently ‘magical act.’ If I felt that my ‘artistic identity was preserved during the collaboration,’ I would feel that Dennis Ashbaugh had simply illustrated my work. This was not at all the case.”

This collaboration is one of my favorites for two reasons: 1. how fucking cool is a book that destroys itself? And 2. I love this “third man” concept (though I prefer the phrase “Third Entity”) that collaborations don’t merely combine two (or more) people’s work but create their own identity.

Google it and see for yourself.

2. Salvador Dalí’s Alice in Wonderland Suite

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When Dali illustrated Lewis Carroll’s 1865 Alice in Wonderland in 1969, it became one of the most sought-after Dalí suites. I’ve never been as pumped about Alice in Wonderland as I am about other children’s stories. I suspect that’s because the Disney cartoon freaked me out as a kid (it was the talking flowers that did it). But when I first saw this suite in person in Montmartre at Espace Dalí, I was mesmerized by Dalí’s Wonderland interpretation and his depiction of Alice.

Until recently, the suite was only available in rare, expensive volumes. Thanks to the 150th Anniversary Edition from Princeton University Press, you can purchase a copy for under $25.

3. Jeff Vandermeer and Eric Schaller’s “The Exchange”

In Jeff Vandermeer and Eric Schaller’s “The Exchange”—a short story pamphlet  released as a chapbook in August 2008, reprinted in City of Saints and Madmen—the illustrations make the story.

Set in Vandermeer’s Ambergris city, “The Exchange” is told through the point-of-view of a stranger watching through a window as an elderly couple shares a meal and exchanges strange gifts. The narrative progresses through both the words and the subtle art: two squids decorating either side of images that appear at first to be ornamental and then reveal themselves as metaphors for the couple’s dynamic.

When asked about what challenges he faced during the production of “The Exchange,” Schaller wrote: “It took a little while for me to settle on what the actual images would be in the artwork. I am a firm believer that the artwork should work in tandem with the story, and not simply recapitulate information present in the story itself. The reason that this presented an initial challenge is that Jeff’s story is very visual, thus illustrations could easily be superfluous. What I resolved to do was to concentrate almost entirely upon the characters and have the illustrations reflect their emotional state and their responses to the environment.” (“A Decadent & Obfuscatory Interview with the Artist, Eric Schaller,” Oivas)

In City of Saints and Madmen, “The Exchange” appears accompanied by comments on the relationship between the fictional writer–artist pair whose names decorate the pamphlet cover. The academic-style text analyzes the story as a metaphor for the tumultuous relationship between the fictional writers which ended poorly.

4. Alexis Smith and Amy Gertsler’s Past Lives

Collagist Alexis Smith and poet Amy Gertsler admit to their own “Third Entity” experience collaborating together on the 1990 installation and related book Past Lives. In that same Art Journal article, “Interactions Between Artists and Writers,” (really worth checking out if you’ve got institutional access), Gertsler says of the installation that she felt her work took on a much more visual presence after working with the artist. In the interview they both state: “One aim was that neither artist would lose her identity, but that if we collaborated successfully, the piece would have its own, resolved, kind of third identity, almost like the way an offspring of two parents might resemble both parents in certain respects, and the other parent in different ways, but is actually a completely separate individual who has never been seen before in the world,” an apt description for the “Third Entity.”

Santa Monica Museum of Art, where the installation lived in 1989, describes it this way: “Combining text with found photographs and objects, Gerstler’s and Smith’s collaborative installation played off the notion that human beings can unknowingly bestow their essence on inanimate objects, and that these objects can therefore emanate some of the poignancy and radiance of human personalities.”

This is one of those that is fairly difficult to see for yourself, since it’s not up anywhere and the book is hard to find, but you can get an idea of the installation if you Google it.

5. Matt Kish One Drawing for Every Page of Moby-Dickp-41914-bk-moby-pg-1

Matt Kish is such a huge fan of Moby-Dick that he decided to illustrate every single page of the Signet Classic paperback. In his subsequent blog and book, One Drawing for Every Page of Moby-Dick, some paintings work on a purely aesthetic level and others benefit strongly from knowledge of the novel. Kish’s Page 550 is one of my favorites for the way it works with or without the text.

The whole project is now compiled in this handy volume. Kish’s blog, where he now illustrates other favorite literary classics, is still in operation.

6. Danez Smith and Sam Vernon’s “fall poem” & Broadsided Press

Broadsided Press is a force for both collaboration and change. Founded in 2005 by Elizabeth Bradfield, every month they publish a literary/visual collaboration in beautiful broadside form. They encourage people to not only read and view the work but to print it out and spread the collaboration far and wide.

I’m particularly moved by poet Danez Smith and artist Sam Vernon’s “fall poem,” which plays with dueling definitions of fall; the saccharine cliche of a seasonal poem becomes a metaphor for the fall of black bodies. I appreciate how an unassuming reader may find themselves surprised by this turn of phrase, in the same way that people who don’t daily fear gun violence might be surprised by the fact that many people do. I also appreciate Vernon’s surprising visual interpretation. Broadsided Press interviews the collaborators of each broadside, and Smith says of what they expected color-wise from the interpretation: “I imagined something brown & red in my head when I thought of the poem…” Vernon went with an image that is black-and-white and, as Smith describes it, “impenetrable.” Read the full interview here.

7. Rebecca Campbell and Nicole Walker’s 7 Rings: An Artist’s Game of Telephone

There’s no one contribution to this mass collaboration that strikes me more than any other; instead, I’m highly impressed by the collaboration as a whole. Described as a collaborative game, painter Rebecca Campbell and poet Nicole Walker started responding to one another’s work in private before deciding that games were more fun with more people. They started off the collaboration then invited five artists–writers, artists, musicians–to respond in 24-hour turns. The project ended in 2010 but is still housed here. Take your time with it. There’s much to hear, see, and read.

If you’re interested in my own annual collaborative Art & Words Show, read about it here, submit here every March, or come see it in person in Fort Worth, Texas on October 1.