The Hours

I am attending the Santa Barbara Writers Conference TODAY. Excited. Nervous! I haven’t posted here in a while, party because I have spent the last few weeks preparing. I… wrote a 1-page synopsis of my novel. Wrote out a three-line pitch and went over and over and over it. Chose stories I’ve written to bring to the workshops (whether I have the courage to actually present my work and be critiqued by a bunch of total strangers, that’s another story). Spent much too long going through my wardrobe and assembling an outfit for each day…

I haven’t been doing much actual fiction writing. This worries me.

dance tix

A couple months ago I went to see two dance performances: Alvin Ailey at the Arlington in Santa Barbara, and the Trey McIntyre Project at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. Both were gorgeous. I especially liked the Trey McIntyre Project’s adaptation of Titus Andronicus, one of my favorite Shakespeare tragedies, in which Titus coerces his enemy to eat a pie made out of her sons. I saw my first Titus when studying abroad in London, as a groundling at the Globe, and I was so close I got to rest my elbows on the stage and actually saw one of the actors slip a capsule of fake blood between his lips! In this performance, the three dancers used flowing red fabric to symbolize the deaths, and the female dancer stuffed a stringy, play dough-like substance into her mouth.

When you’re a dancer, you put in a lot of time practicing. I danced in high school, on my high school dance troupe, and we practiced every day after school. Plus weekend rehearsals for performances. Other girls, more intense than I, took additional classes at outside dance studios. An easy estimate? 10-20 hours per week. A professional dancer? I don’t know, but I could easily guess 40-60 hours per week. (“Black Swan”? It’s not just a profession, it’s an obsession.)

Dance Troupe

My high school dance troupe sweatshirt and worn-in ballet and jazz shoes.

So when I take a break from fiction writing to do synopsis writing, and pitch writing, and sometimes no writing, even though I’m working toward the very writerly goal of attending and making the most of a writers conference, I get worried. Worse, I log my hours when I do write fiction daily and realize I only write for 6-10 hours per week.

When I spoke to my mentor recently, he said it sounds like I’m getting things done. It seems like I’ve got a good groove. And it’s true—on a normal day, I wake up and write in the morning. Creative writing only. I don’t let anything else get in, for at least an hour. Then I go to work, and then come home and eat dinner and walk the dog. Evenings are for marketing, blogging, emails, research, etc.

Except when I’m doing something like preparing for a conference. Or building a website. (More on that to come—I’ve decided it’s time for me to have a real author website with a domain name and branding and so forth. Yesterday I had a photo shoot for my author photo!)

But, no matter how much I accomplish, there is this niggling feeling that I should be doing more. No matter how much I write, I always feel I should have put in more hours, another thousand words. Like a professional dancer, shouldn’t a professional writer work for 40-60 hours per week? How will I ever become the writer I want to be if I don’t put in that kind of time?

One beautiful day stands out in my mind, when I wrote for 5 hours straight and didn’t notice the time passing. Another day, where between writing, reading, and critiquing, I had a full 8-hour day of writerly life (this blog post). Why are these so few and far between? Could I, even if I had the time and the money, write for 8 hours a day? Or write for 4 and do the rest of the necessary stuff for 4?

And, regarding the conference, have I prepared enough? Am I going to make a fool of myself? Botch my editor/agent meetings and any other important encounters? Is it really time for me to attend a conference? Perhaps I need six more drafts of this novel.

I wonder if I will always feel like I should be doing/should have done more.

But I suppose a writer must strike a balance between what she wants and what she is capable of, just as she must strike a balance between writing and all the other aspects of life. Perhaps I’ll find some answers to my questions over the coming days, as I immerse myself in workshops, panels, and lectures, surrounded by writers.

Dance sweatshirt

Art, the Messenger

I discovered the video “To This Day,” based on a poem by Shane Koyczanwhen reading the blog Synapsis & Synopsis. This well-designed animation tells a clear, powerful story in an aesthetically pleasing way, while sending a strong, accessible message.

Haven’t we all dealt with bullying at one time or another in our lives? If not bullying, exactly, we certainly have all had to find and make friends, enter or leave social groups, and learn how to participate in social dynamics.

This video moved me because of the experiences I have had in my life, and for the messages I would like to send with my own work. My novel features a college girl who must learn to navigate the treacherous social situations in her sorority. Female relationships often include bullying/cyberbullying and back-stabbing while women vie for popularity, and my book incorporates these themes. I know as an artist you cannot control how your work will be viewed or the impact it will have. However, my hope is that the young women who read this book will reconsider how they treat each other. I hope they might change their views and actions, and try to boost each other up, rather than tear each other down.

Recently I picked up Tammara Webber‘s Easy at the library. While the book prominently features a love story, there were several elements of confidence and learning to stand up for oneself, emotionally and physically. The protagonist experiences near-rape within the first few pages of the book, and she spends most of the book in fear of her attacker. *Spoiler alert* She takes self defense classes and ultimately triumphs–in a final confrontation with her attacker at the end of the book, she not only fends him off, she uses her new skills to give him a bloody nose. I had no doubt that she would stand up to him in court. At the close of the book, I enjoyed the way her love story reached a happy ending, but I was more impressed by the way she had grown. 

Easy

In the pages following the story, there were discussion questions. One of them was, “Did reading Easy make you want to learn self-defense?” and my answer was a resounding YES. I absolutely felt a heightened sense of awareness of the issues women who have experienced rape face and wanted to take action to protect myself. I haven’t signed up for self defense classes yet, but I have become much more aware of the message “90 percent of self-defense involves reducing the risk of attack in the first place.”

Visual media and the written word are two powerful forms of art. The video moved me and strengthened my desire to impact the conversation on bullying among women. The book inspired me to take action and change the way I live my life. This kind of impact is what I aspire to in my own work.

I am, first and foremost, a Creator.

“Do what you love.”

This mantra, instilled in me by my mother, is one of the many reasons I’m grateful for her guidance. She’s said this to me many times over the years, and I’m sure I wouldn’t have chosen to be a writer without her support. Not that doing what you love is easy, but it’s much more fulfilling. I know this because I’ve done things I haven’t loved. No matter how hard it can be to sit down and set my fingers to the keyboard, it always leaves me feeling like I’ve accomplished something—the gratification of a creator.

Indeed, creativity breeds inspiration, and vice versa. The creative mind is always at work. Some days, I will sit down to write and not notice the time passing, and I’ll look up and five hours have passed and thousands of words have flown from my fingers. These days are rare, unfortunately. More often I’ll slog through an hour or two and need something to recharge. Sometimes the simple acts of walking the dog or doing the laundry will clear my mind and allow my subconscious to solve the problems of plot or character or dialogue. I have noticed, however, that working on other creative tasks feeds my writer’s mind. And so, in between writing, I create other things.

Thanks, Mom, for teaching me to do what I love.

Thanks, Mom, for teaching me to do what I love.

IMG_1965

I couldn’t say exactly how this works, or why, I just know that it does. Sometimes I worry that I’m procrastinating. I ask myself: wouldn’t my time be better spent at the computer? But I’ve tried that, too, and you can’t force creation, only encourage it. There’s common advice in the writing world, in which you set aside your work for a given amount of time before going back to revise. Some say a month, some a year. For me the time varies and I always wish it were shorter. One of the things I’m learning as a writer is finding the best ways to encourage my creation.

Sculpey dragon. A reminder that I hold the key to my imagination in my hand.

Sculpey dragon. A reminder that I hold the key to my imagination in my hand. 

Also between writing, I’m still researching away. My phone call with the agent last week went very well—not only did he give me some invaluable advice (formatting is crucial, and the 25-lines per page rule should most definitely be followed, for example), he agreed to read the manuscript. Draft 6 is “done,” and I think I may finally have achieved the triumphant end. Of course, now that I have this opportunity, I feel like I need to revise it at least fifty more times. I have a week and half to nitpick, and then it’s time to take a deep breath and send it off.

The Emerging Painter

Artist Jourdie Ross at her solo show, I Remember It Like This.

It is my honor to congratulate my sister Jourdie Ross on her first solo show, titled “I Remember It Like This,” where she was a featured artist in this month’s First Thursday at the Santa Barbara Forge and Iron. *See her website, www.jourdieross.com.* I am encompassed by pride.

Growing up, I would look at abstract art in museums and wonder what was so special about it. I would look at a red smear on a canvas and think, can’t anyone do that? The answer is no, anyone can not. I have never been all that good at painting in the abstract, myself. (At my final critique in a painting class at UCLA, I hung the 30 or so paintings I’d done over the quarter. My professor walked along the wall, pointing and commenting, even praising several pieces. He stopped at the one abstract work and said, “What happened here?”)

Treats from The Blue Owl offered at the SB Forge and Iron, made by Blue Owl culinary virtuoso Jacqui Wou Ross, our mother.

Technique. Composition. Ability to work with varying media and combine colors and materials. These are a few of the things an abstract artist must master. Beyond the tangible, abstract art may speak with the emotion from which it is born, and this is one of the things that makes my sister’s work so powerful. Hers is work that moves you, because she has the vulnerability to engage so thoroughly in her own experience and bring it to the canvas in such a way that you are present to your own experiences.

Child interacting with installation piece.

In the words of her artist statement, “My work is about fear, and turning fear on its head. I make art about the parts of ourselves that we marginalize, that we so often hide from ourselves and from each other; our uncertainty, our sadness, our doubt, our longing. My work is pictures of my own experiences with these things, what we so often call negative emotion. With my art, I aim to create a space where turmoil can reside, where we can find beauty and humor in our struggles, and begin to befriend rather than alienate the parts of ourselves that feel pain.”

The sunset view across the street from the gallery.