The Art of Ending a Sentence

“Always write when you are just a tad hungry.”  This is a piece of writing advice I read somewhere or heard from someone maybe, like, ten years ago.  I’m not sure who originally said it, so if you know, please inform me, but I have to say…this is crap.

Whenever I write when I am “just a tad hungry” I get “just a tad hungrier” until I am “just kind of raiding the fridge to see if I drunk ate my leftovers or not.”  No writing actually gets done.

I have noticed something about the world of authors and poets and editors and writers.  When I started to actually try and improve my writing by sitting in workshops and joining author networks and buying books entitled, “What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers”, I found everybody who is even the tiniest bit successful, or who thinks they are any good at stringing words together into a sentence, is chomping at the bit to give you their advice.  From one writer to another: how to write better, write more, writer darker, write funnier…the list goes on.  I’ve heard a lot of trick-of-the-trade slogans, and some of them are really good, but some of them, like whoever thought it would be a good idea to make me write when I haven’t eaten yet, are not.

So, I’m going to be kind of shameful.  I’m going to talk about my process and maybe offer a little advice as well.  If everybody else is doing it, why shouldn’t I?  But, I will add a disclaimer before I start: if my wisdom seems absolutely absurd to you, feel free to ignore it.  As writers, we have to do whatever works best for us so that we are consistently producing work.  It’s when you aren’t writing that you can’t really call yourself a writer, and those people bother me.  I’ll talk more about them in a bit.

 

Anyway, here is what I do and why it works for me.

 

Start off early.

One thing I really try to do is write in the morning.  This is something that probably won’t work for a lot of writers, because I feel like we tend to be a nocturnal bunch, and on any given night you can find us torturing ourselves at four in the morning over an adjective.  But, I’ve noticed that if I start the day with coffee and a thousand words, I tend to continue going back to what I’ve started throughout the day, and, thus, getting more done.  I also think with more clarity in the AM, as I am pretty much a worthless Netflixian by eight o’clock at night.

 

Admit that I am not a genius.

It took me a long time to realize that a first draft is terrible.  All the time.  No exceptions.  I used to indulge myself in the belief that I was so brilliant that I could vomit onto a word document and it would be Pulitzer-worthy. Obviously, this isn’t true, and I have since learned.  The editing and rereading part of the writing process isn’t a walk in the park, in fact often it can be a stroll through hell, but, gosh, it is so necessary.  It took me a while to admit that.  But here’s what I have learned: your work gets better every single time you go over it.  Every time.  No exceptions.

 

Refuse to rely on whatever is sloshing around inside my skull to hold my ideas.  Make lists.

I imagine that the inside of my brain looks a little bit like an episode of TLC’s Hoarding: Buried Alive.  This is no place to store ideas!  Until I can get some professionals to come in and clean up the stacks of things I have piled up in my brain, I have to consciously make myself write down every notion that occurs to me, whether it be for a story, my blog, my novel, whatever.  If I do not write it down, there is a 100% chance I will lose it.  This is why my room is covered with checklists written on pieces of printer paper folded in half, the Notes app on my phone is the most used, and my school binders have scribblings in all the margins.

 

Set a word count for the day and hit it.

This is easier said than done, and often I don’t actually reach my goal.  But novels are made a little at a time, and on the days I get really into it and look up to realize I’ve written almost a dozen pages, it’s really satisfying.  It is then that I am reminded why I love doing this.

 

Know that this is actually hard.

This is where I talk about those “writers” who bother me.  Being a writer is not sitting in a coffee shop and acting pretentious and wearing elbow patches and seeking out first editions of novels written by old dead guys.  I think people who do that, but don’t actually write anything, are just romanticizing the bohemian lifestyle.  It makes me mad, because those people aren’t writers, they’re hipsters or beatniks, and they call themselves writers and give us a bad name.  Being a real writer consists of sitting on your computer and creating work and then doing whatever you can to make it better.  It takes hours, it’s not glamorous, and when I am “being a writer” I am pretty much sitting in a corner of the couch in my sweatpants with my hair bundled on top of my head and I look like I have a terminal disease.  I think if those elbow-patch-wearers actually did the work and didn’t put some much effort into being a phony, they’d probably shed their tweed jackets.  There’s a really funny YouTube video, The Nine Types of Writers, that illustrates my point.

 

And here’s one final tip.

The best advice I ever got when I was an art major was to “draw what you see.”  When you’re working on a still life, often you are tempted to draw things the way you think they are supposed to look instead of drawing them the way they actually appear to you from the angle where you are sitting.  I think this can be applied to writing too.  Write exactly what you see, hear, feel.  Not how you want it to be.  I think that’s where the magic happens.

 

About a year ago, I wrote an article for Tremr called Dear Author’s Lament, all about how in love with my first novel I was and how it’s really hard to start up a new one.  In a way, I was grieving it, not being in that world of Broken Haven construction anymore.  But, I’m happy to say, I’m well over half way finished with a second book, and I think it’s going to be better.  So, I’m going to go work on it now, because that’s what writers do.  Stay tuned.

 

SGJ

 

 

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Tofurkey, anyone?

 

Confession time.  I’m about to say something totally un-American and a lot of people will most certainly disagree with me and maybe even be so inclined to comment with a history lesson on how the turkey was almost the National bird.  Oh well.  Guess what?

I don’t like Thanksgiving.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m a vegetarian, and something inside of me just kind of feels bad for the giant mass of poultry sitting on a platter whose essential organs have been replaced with herbs and breadcrumbs.  The alternative?  Ham.

Maybe it’s the fact that as a kid, I had a serious aversion to all foods that are “mushy” and most traditional Thanksgiving dishes fall in this category: cranberry sauce, stuffing, sweet potatoes, pretty much every single casserole.  Even the Sister Schubert’s rolls that always appear are a little too gummy for my liking.

Maybe it’s the fact that at our family Thanksgiving, chocolate isn’t allowed on the dessert buffet.  My mom is really adamant that chocolate is for Christmas and Thanksgiving is the holiday when other dessert flavors get their fifteen minutes of fame.  I understand this, but…I really like chocolate.  I feel like I’m cheating on my number one when I eat pumpkin pie instead.

Maybe it’s the fact that this holiday is centered around food, and I don’t like the food, as you can infer from above.  Yes, yes, yes, it’s about giving thanks and being with family and sitting around the table and blah blah blah.  I know, I know, I know.  Yet, still, every year, for me, Thanksgiving seems to be an exercise in seeing if I can make my full plate magically disappear without having to ingest any of it.  Thank god the dogs run around under the table, am I right?

I can’t be the only one who feels this way!  Surely, there must be other vegetarian foodies out there who also dread this particular Thursday every year!  Where are you, friends?  Reach out to me!  We should start a support group or something.

Anyway, I’ve compiled a bunch of recipes for people like me.  That’s right, this is going to be a recipe post, but, don’t worry, I’ll rant more about my life as a white privileged female next time.  These recipes are close enough to the Thanksgiving theme that you won’t get yelled at for bringing hipster nonsense to the table but far enough from tradition that you’ll be able to trick yourself and pretend you’re celebrating some other less gluttonous holiday, like Arbor Day, or something.  I promise you that I have tried each and every one of these dishes in my efforts to revamp Thanksgiving and they are great and will make for a nice addition to the spread.

 

So here we go, Sarah’s Anti-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving Recipes:

The Tradition: Pumpkin Pie

The Spin-off: Giada De Laurentiis’s Pumpkin and Goat Cheese Risotto

If you’re a risotto fan like me, you know it’s not the most Thanksgiving-y thing to bring, but it’s so good that people will typically forgive you once they try some.  This dish uses a can of pumpkin puree to flavor the vegetable broth used for simmering the risotto, which turns it a lovely, deep orange color.  Here’s the best part: it doesn’t really taste like pumpkin at all!  It tastes like normal risotto but it looks autumn-y and festive!  You get to fool everyone!

 

The Tradition: Mashed Potatoes

The Spin-off: Ina Garten’s Potato Basil Puree

Chances are you don’t often take a forkful of Thanksgiving food and think, “Wow!  That’s so fresh!” but this potato puree is literally that.  You boil the basil in the water you use to later boil the potatoes, and it infuses them with a really direct basil flavor.  They taste so herb-y and bright that it makes a nice contrast to the dark, brooding gravy that just wishes it came straight from Ina Garten’s garden.

 

The Tradition: Sweet Potato Casserole

The Spin-off: Paula Deen’s Sweet Potato Fries

Push the boundaries: Thanksgiving can mean french fries if they involve paprika and garlic seasoning!  These are fun and crunchy and you don’t have to heap them onto your plate with a giant serving spoon like the casserole version!

 

The Tradition: Green Bean Casserole

The Spin-off: Spicy Sauteed Kale and Chickpeas from the Williams-Sonoma food blog, Taste

If green bean casserole is supposed to serve as the necessary “green thing” on the table so we can all feel a little better whilst unbuttoning our pants in light of the fact that at least we ate a vegetable, don’t kid yourself.  Put the can of mushroom soup aside and try this kale dish, which is so easy to make and adds a little spicy heat to an otherwise bland table.  And, it’s so much better for you.

 

The Tradition: White Yeast Rolls

The Spin-off: Ina Garten’s Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits

These are legit.  Better than the ones at Red Lobster.  Swear to God.  No one will miss Sister Schubert.

 

The Tradition: No Chocolate Allowed.

The Spin-off: The Cake Doctor’s Red Velvet Cake

Shhhhhhh…red velvet is actually chocolate with just a bunch of food coloring added!  Don’t tell!  The great thing about Anne Byrn’s recipes: they start with boxed mix, so you don’t have to make the whole cake from scratch!  I can finally have my chocolate cake and eat it too, lecture-free!!!

 

As snarky as this post might have come across, really, I am thankful.  Thankful for all the blessings and good people in my life.  Thankful for my friends and family and dogs.  Thankful especially that I’m the only one at our family Thanksgiving who eats the pumpkin risotto, so, you know, more for me.

Have a wonderful holiday everyone!  Eat lots of whatever you want!

SGJ

Ask Away

In pursuing this blog, my goal is not to ramble on about my faith.  I feel like I see a lot of that in the posts from my fellow female-college-age bloggers, and it isn’t by any means bad, it’s just not something I want to write about.  Maybe it’s because I feel like they already have that area covered, maybe because I have no authority on the subject, or maybe because I feel like a lot of people might stop reading right…here.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m always happy to get a coffee with whoever and talk about religion and spirituality, frankly because I find it all incredibly fascinating and I really enjoy learning about how different people worship (or don’t worship, I like hearing about that too).  Today, however, I’m going to break my rule, because I have a little something to share, and it’s not enough of a revelation to offend anyone, so no need to proceed with caution.

I grew up in the Episcopal church, went to an Episcopal high school, was raised with the ideas of the Episcopal tradition.  I think this is why I’m a pretty strong believer in the art of asking.  No matter what religion you are, what philosophies you identify with, I feel like I see a lot commonality on this front, which is why I think it’s really powerful.  I’ll explain: there’s a verse in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  I like this.  Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve liked this.  It makes me feel like if I take the time to identify what I need in my life, it’s already mine to have.  Maybe you can ask through prayer or through poetry or through painting; for me, I find that I often ask through my writing.  In my last blog post, I talked a lot about how I needed to continue my personal journey.  Without even being aware, as I was trying to compose a witty-yet-heartfelt post (and to impress you with how witty and heartfelt I can be), I was asking.  In just the next few days, I had an abundance of things happen to me that showed me what resources I have around me to help me expand my horizons, all in my little corner of Fayetteville.

On my way to pick up lunch, by chance, I happened upon a yoga studio two blocks from my house.  The next morning, I went to a class where I promptly signed up for my first month unlimited.  I’m a “broke college kid”, so I typically don’t drop 30 dollars here and there just for thrills, but I went ahead and did it, fully committing to making myself actually go to class a few times a week for the next month since I was paying for it.  It was a yoga class like I had never experienced: we listened to 90’s rock music and the teacher dropped a lot of F-bombs (“F***ing love yourself!  You owe it to you!”) but I left with the post-yoga warm-fuzzies I get when I feel empowered and strong.  So, I think it was worth it.  I got a text from one of my favorite people, a truly genuine friend of mine, to spend time together over the weekend.  I got the courage to submit a personal essay to a mid-level magazine.  I discovered a new band I really like, only to find out they’ll be playing here on Thursday (look up The Oh Hellos and then go see them at George’s Majestic Lounge on November 19, if you like folk-y, soulful, chill music, you will love them).  This made me especially happy, because one of the things I really loved about my high-school-self was how hungry I was for good music, and how determined I was to see my favorite bands live.  Were any of these things particularly life changing?  No, but I’m just always kind of happily amazed at how life can take a turn for the better when you just ask for it.

I’ll give you an update on how my TV-celibacy is going.  For those of you who don’t know, I gave up watching TV for a week, because I spent so much time re-watching shows I had seen before on Netflix, wasting my days away on reruns.  I wanted to see how I could use that time in a different way.  Okay, let me tell you, it is easier said than done.  Just last night, I was laying in bed, trying to fall asleep, and literally bargaining with myself over whether or not I could put on just one little teensy tiny episode of Parks and Recreation.  It was like having an angel and devil on either shoulder.

Angel: Don’t watch it.  Stick to this assignment you’ve given yourself.  It has already brought so much positivity into your life!  Why don’t we listen to some calming music instead?

Devil: Sarah, just put on the stupid TV show.  You don’t have to confess to cheating in your blog.  No one reads it anyway.  No one is going to know.

Angel: You will know, and then you won’t be able to write about the experience in a way that actually means something.

Devil: You’re a good writer.  You can fake it.

I’m sorry to say that Devil won, but in my defense, I fell asleep exactly a minute and thirty seconds into it, before I even got to the theme song.  So, maybe it doesn’t count.

But, guess what!  I’ve gotten so much done!  In the time I spend typically watching TV, I feng shui-ed my room, cooked all weekend and made an oyster mushroom and spinach risotto that was just as good as it sounds, found a bunch of new podcasts, cleaned out my closet and got 19 dollars from Plato’s for my old clothes (this is actually kind of a feat, I usually get, like, 7) AND finished all my laundry.  I deserve a crown.

I’ve noticed something about myself in diary entries I write or journals or blog posts like this: I try to end them with an apology.  “I’m still new to the blogging game, so sorry if this was boring, I’ll do better next time…” kind of thing.  And even if I’m not super proud of the rants that I go on, I think it’s important that I don’t apologize for them.  At least I sat down to write something, at least I tried to make sense of my world.  So, I’m going to sign this one off in a different way.  I want to end this post with a line from The Oh Hello’s song, “Like the Dawn” because I think it’s really pretty and I like how you can read their lyrics in a slow, thoughtful, almost meditative way, like poetry.

“You were the brightest shade of sun I had ever seen
Your skin was gilded with the gold of the richest kings
And like the dawn you woke the world inside of me
You were the brightest shade of sun when I saw you.”

SGJ

An Introduction

I feel like every time a new blog pops up on the Internet (maybe one of my close friends has decided to start writing about the daily struggles of being a college kid with less than thirty dollars in savings or a celebrity is posting pictures of food with a filter and discussing diet recipes) the first entry serves as an explanation. Why will I be writing about my life in the vain hopes someone will read about it? Why should you tune in weekly to skim whatever I’ve come up with? Why is my blog vastly different from all the other ones floating around?

I like to avoid things like this, but I sort of feel like if I am going to establish any kind of reader-base, I do need to tell people straight up why I have decided to jump on the blogging bandwagon.

Here’s what’s up: I am bored.

When I was in high school, I had a really fantastic sense of wonder about the world around me. I was so devoted to different bands and artists and got really obsessed with certain movies all for the simple reason that they inspired me. They made my heart stir. And I was always coming up with new projects for myself to continue my exploration. I was a curious person, always collecting quotes and memories and experiences to collage them into the person I wanted to become, and somewhere along the line in college, I think I just sort of stopped.

It’s hard to hold onto your best self in college. I get so caught up in school assignments and campus life and resume building (okay, not true, I get caught up in Netflix) that it’s hard to devote energy to anything else. But lately, I’ve really felt like my personal journey is in need of some attention. I’m not done growing yet. I want to break out of this standstill I’m in and force myself to fall back in love with the world around me. Maybe I’m a little late coming in on the blogging game, but here’s how I can justify it: this blog is here for me; I am not here for this blog.

So…I guess I’m not really sure what I’m going to do here on this little internet home I’m creating for myself. I suppose it’s going to feel like an experiment in mindfulness, in trying to appreciate every day that I wake up and search for inspiration everywhere I can.   You can expect all kinds of entries: self-reflective ones, recipe ones, craft ones, book reviews, maybe even a post or two written from the point of view of my Golden Retriever mix, Brer. I want to start examining my days a little more, saying ‘thank you’ more, savoring this life that we live, and I think starting a blog could be the answer. I found a really good quote on this yesterday that sort of made me want to start something like this:

“Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.” –Roald Dahl from the book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Yes, it was something I saw on Pinterest (aka The Time-Eater), but I think you get my point.

I have a challenge for myself in the upcoming week. Feel free to join me, it shouldn’t be too difficult, I hope. Here’s my confession: I am really bad about filling my free time with TV. If I get home from class and I have a couple hours of nothing to do, I go from zero to couch potato in less than ten seconds. I’ve seen every single episode of The Office, 30 Rock, Gilmore Girls, Parks and Recreation, and Good Eats (though I don’t feel too guilty about this one because Alton Brown is a god among us) dozens and dozens of times. It’s not that I’m against TV. As you can infer, I love TV. It’s just that I’m curious to see what kinds of things I can do with that time that I waste re-watching an episode of Friends I’ve already seen six times before.

So here it is: The Seven Days Sans-Television Challenge

The rules are pretty simple. Starting today, Thursday November 12, every time I have the urge to watch TV, I will instead force myself to come up with a more dynamic way to spend that time, creating something or reconnecting with someone or writing this very blog you are reading now. Maybe I’ll feng-shui my room, or go to a yoga class, or actually read the $70 stack of books I brought home from Barnes and Noble last month that I haven’t had time to start yet… Maybe I’ll just get really angst-y and not know what to do with myself. But it’s part of the experiment in my efforts to be less of a lump.

I think that’s where I’m going to leave you for this entry. I’ll try to come up with something snazzier for the next one. I’m excited to start this process…I bet something really beautiful comes from it.