Week forty-one: Embrace your choices

It’s week forty-one of 2019. How’s the writing going? Here at the garret, I’ve been thinking a lot about choices. It’s the time of year in San Francisco where there are simply too many good things happening at once: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, the best camping weather of the year, LitQuake, a great new play at ACT, some of my favorite bands at the Fillmore and the Fox. And then next month there’s the perennial NaNoWriMo versus Thanksgiving showdown.

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Week forty: A book of our own

It’s week forty of 2019. How was the writing this week? It’s October now – the true heart of Fuck It Fall – and now is the time to push yourself creatively just a bit. What can you begin or accomplish in the handful of weeks left in the year? Set a stop date for yourself (December 13 is mine) and then start sprinting. Knowing that the sprint won’t last forever can help you stick with it when it gets hard.

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Week thirty-nine: Climb the tree of syntax

It is week thirty-nine of 2019. How did the writing go this week? My schedule has been off-kilter this week (for good reasons this time, not pneumonia!), and I’ve been writing and working in a lot of new spots. My wrists have missed my split keyboard and vertical mouse, but otherwise the change has given me a welcome jolt of energy. Having a regular schedule that incorporates time for writing is important, and I think it’s also true that you can train your brain to be productive at specific times (my brain starts tinkering away at this newsletter on Friday mornings, whether or not I’m sitting at my keyboard). But it’s also true that occasionally shuffling your routine can wake you up.

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Week thirty-eight: Play in the pond

It is week thirty-eight of 2019. How’s the writing going? I was thrilled this week to see that Marlon James’s epic fantasy novel Black Leopard, Red Wolf was on the longlist for the 2019 National Book Awards for fiction. As the announcement in the New Yorker noted, its presence on the list, alongside Helen Phillips’s twisty thriller The Need, signals a mixing and merging of the worlds of literary fiction and genre fiction. Tracing the division between these two worlds – and noting the ways in which the division limits authors’ creative options – has been a recurring theme in my newsletters this year, and I’m excited to see evidence that the lines might be blurring.

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Week thirty-five: Find your fall

It is week thirty-five of 2019. This is the sentence where I usually ask you how the writing is going. I’m not going to do that this week because this week is different. This is the first week of Fuck It Fall, which I am going to tell you all about after I warn you that there is going to be an extra amount of cursing in this newsletter. (Also, it happens to be my birthday, and so I get to do whatever the fuck I want. Isn’t that the point of birthdays?)

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Week thirty-three: Read every word

It is week thirty-three of 2019. How did the writing go this week? Are you beset by distractions, like back-to-school to-do lists and new schedules? Or recovering from or embarking on a summer vacation? The clarity and renewed vigor I always associate with September is right around the corner, so muddle through these last hazy weeks of summer as best you can. Or don’t muddle through them at all, but rather drift happily and lazily through them.

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Week thirty-two: Revise for your reader

It is week thirty-two of 2019. How did the writing go this week? Just as I had hoped, I sat down amongst the redwoods last weekend to spin out ideas for my novel. I tried to use KM Weiland’s outlining formula but realized that I don’t yet know enough about my characters and setting to productively answer those why questions, so I’m going to do some more thinking and gathering before trying again. These waning days of summer are perfect for the kind of aimless reading and daydreaming that lead to flashes of inspiration way down the road when you’ve forgotten to expect them.

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Week thirty-one: Write into the dark

It is week thirty-one of 2019. How’s the writing going for you these days? I’m camping in the redwoods this weekend and bringing along a fresh new legal pad and my favorite pens in the hopes that I can do some scribbling and planning for my novel, which is just starting to come into focus. Also on the agenda: hiking, lounging, and lots of eating. I hope y’all are enjoying a similarly decadent weekend or have one coming up.

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Week thirty: Experiment with pattern

It is week thirty of 2019. How did the writing go this week? It’s midsummer, a time of year that isn’t always good for brain work. You may be smothering under a blanket of heat (come to San Francisco to cool off!) or distracted by a vacation or a different schedule. If you need a refreshing tonic to wake your creative brain, then this week’s book might be the one for you.

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Week twenty-nine: Understand your tools

It is week twenty-nine of 2019. How’s the writing going? Here at the garret, I was deep in the midst of two different copyediting projects, happily polishing sentences, looking up words in Merriam-Webster, confirming facts on Google, and checking rules in the Chicago Manual of Style (ranch hand, not ranch-hand; Michael Jackson’s ranch is indeed called Neverland; a last name with a de prefix is capitalized only when it begins a sentence) until I inadvertently broke all of my macros in MS Word.

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Week twenty-eight: Build an idea laboratory

It is week twenty-eight of 2019. How did the writing go this week? I’m settled back in at the garret after a two-week road trip from Vermont to North Carolina. The trip was glorious but almost too full of sights, sounds, sensations, and tastes. I wouldn’t have missed any of it – the maple creemees or the Pat’s cheesesteak or the Carolina barbecue; kayaking on Lake Champlain at sunset; listening to Jeff Tweedy sing “Noah’s Flood” in a sudden summer shower; visiting with aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, and mothers from three different families; or traveling with five of my favorite humans in a giant white whale of an SUV – but it feels good to be back in my beloved San Francisco, which has been muffled in a deep, cool layer of soothing fog all week.

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Week twenty-seven: How to read a book

It is week twenty-seven of 2019. How is the writing going this week?

As I promised last week, this post is all about how to read a nonfiction book efficiently. Of course, that’s not always your goal. Sometimes you need to do a thorough, deep, concentrated read of a complex book that you already know will have a lot of impact on your work or life. And sometimes you just want to take your time and enjoy the material.

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Week twenty-six: Show your work

It is week twenty-six of 2019. My question for you this week: How has the writing gone this year? Take a minute to recognize what you’ve achieved during the last six months, even if it is less than you had hoped or planned – especially if it is less than you had hoped or planned. There are twenty-six weeks left in the year. What could you accomplish if you started something today and then spent time on it every week?

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Week twenty-five: Get in the magic boat

It is week twenty-five of 2019. How was the writing this week? Did you do anything to mark the solstice this week? Depending on whether you live in the northern or southern hemisphere, Friday was the longest or shortest day of the year. I love time markers of all kinds, which is why I always note which week of the year we are in at the beginning of these newsletters. It is a reminder that each week is a new opportunity to get something done, to reach a milestone, to start something new, or to just rest in the sun.

As Ursula K. Le Guin tells us in this week’s book, Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, we have to be ready when the stories find us.

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Week twenty-four: Master the mysteries

It is week twenty-four of 2019. How did the writing go for you this week? Here at the garret, I was still recovering from my bout with pneumonia, which meant that only essential work got done. The newsletter made the cut this week, but I had to throw out several pounds of cherries that I had planned to use to make jam. I thought a lot about the lost cherries this week and realized that they are a good metaphor for something that happens at a late stage in the writing process, so bear with me for a moment while I tell you more. 

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Week twenty-three: Know when to pause

It is week twenty-three of 2019. Remember how last week I advised you to try to keep going with your writing during difficult periods, even if you managed to produce only a little bit? Well, it’s also true that there are limits, and sometimes you have to admit it’s time to pause. Last week it was leaf blowers telling me to work through the noise, but this week pneumonia arrived and ordered me to knock it off.

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Week twenty-two: Ignore the leaf blowers

It is week twenty-two of 2019. How did the writing go for you this week? I’m writing this newsletter while trying to block out the sound of the leaf blower being wielded next door (puzzling, since we are more of a taco truck kind of neighborhood than a leaf blower kind of neighborhood), which is a fair metaphor for the kind of week it has been here at the garret.

Sometimes it takes a great deal of effort to block out the external or internal noise. Recognize the draw on your energy, then try to keep going anyway. Maybe the week’s work will have to be heavily revised somewhere down the line (you’ll encounter it again and remember, “Oh yeah, that was the leaf blower week”), but if you can keep the words flowing, even at a trickle, that’s better than stopping altogether because it requires exponentially more effort and willpower to start back up.

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