Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thursday's Post on Wednesdays

I realize that I don’t have many readers yet (hi Mom!), but I figure I should explain why I didn’t blog yesterday, and why I will, in all likelihood, never blog on Wednesdays. Or most Tuesdays, actually. Oh well.  

My typical Wednesday: 

7:30 - I wake up horribly drowsy from staying up late the night before grading or lesson planning or both. This part is definitely my own fault, but it's still unpleasant.

8:00 -  I wake up again and actually get out of bed. I grudgingly get ready and drag myself out the door around 9:00, which is when I’m required to vacate the parking lot behind my apartment.

9:20 -  I arrive at school and spend an hour doing last minute planning, competing for the copying machine, and eating my breakfast of cappuccino and animal crackers. (You may think I want your pity at this point, but this is actually my ideal breakfast.)

10:30-12:45  I teach class #1.

12:45-2:00  In theory, I take a pleasant hour lunch break. In reality, I wolf down unsatisfying snacks while I plan and print and finish other flotsam and jetsam that I should have completed earlier. 

2:00-4:30  I teach class #2. And yes, all of my classes are unnaturally long; they all have labs.  

 4:30-5:00  In theory, I eat dinner during this half hour. In reality, I spend too much time meeting with students, moving stacks of dictionaries into the classroom, and doing yet more copying, leaving me about three minutes to eat my microwaved Lean Cuisine meal. Half of it burns my mouth and the other half goes back into the fridge for later. Much later.   

5:00-9:00  I teach class #3. It’s a four hour class… on sentence skills. (Ok, ok, I have to be honest: I actually have a lot of fun in this class, and at least half of my students seem to enjoy it as well. We just all wish that it didn’t keep us at school until 9pm.)

9:01  I stumble to my car. As soon as I sit down, my back aches and my toes tingle painfully, because I’ve been on my feet all day but the sheer adrenaline of non-stop teaching has made me oblivious to pain until now.

9:20  I somehow make it home. I know I should go to bed, but I have just enough of a teaching high left that I can’t. I’m also not quite awake enough to actually be productive, so I wander around in a half-hyper daze for an hour, consuming all of the food that I can find, and then finally collapse into bed. For some reason I look forward to Thursday, even though I have to tutor from 9-2 and 4-7, which is still a fairly long day. It’s just so low stress in comparison, because no teaching or frenetic copying is involved.   
But you shouldn’t feel bad for me (ok, obviously I want you to feel at least a little bad for me) because I do have Fridays off, and clearly some of the Wednesday chaos is my own fault. But even if I was ahead of the game, I would still have to spend 12 hours at school with 2 short food breaks, which would be enough to exhaust anyone. 

Unfortunately, I neglected to factor Wednesdays into WEDIO (Write Every Day In October). This is going to be interesting. I suppose I could write when I get home... it's about consistency, not quality or sanity, right?
Looking forward to Friday...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Cheating and Speaking

I've already drafted and subsequently deleted two posts (ok, rants) about plagiarism because I'm trying to be professional out here on my Limb. So, no specifics and no screaming. I'll just have to settle for expressing my fervent wish that students would understand the importance of an earned education and the power of their own words.

Speaking of the importance of true expression and recent events that confound the mind and boil the blood... Thanks to the controversy  begun last week by Wesley Scroggins, I'm finally getting around to reading Speak, which has been sitting on my shelf for over a year. (At least it's in very good company on one of my many to-read shelves; I really need to speed up my reading or slow down my purchasing.)

I do understand Scroggins' concerns about inappropriate material -- even though she was trying to encourage my adult reading level, my fifth or sixth grade teacher probably shouldn't have recommended a series that included very descriptive step-by-step sex scenes (but maybe she just forgot; they were very long books) and I'm not sure how our high school french teacher got away with showing us films like Manon of the Spring (ironically, Manon's full frontal nudity was wasted on most of the class, which as far as I can recall included only one straight male).

But Scroggins seems horribly misguided, failing to understand (1) the purpose of the sexual content in Speak, (2) the destructive and ultimately counter-productive nature of book banning, and (3) the incredible irony of his situation. He is trying to suppress a book about what happens when the voices of rape victims are suppressed, and he's doing so just in time for Banned Books Week. It's incredible in the worst possible way.

Words have power -- this Scroggins seems to realize. But what he fails to recognize, and what we all need to remember, is that their greatest power is in connecting, healing, and changing lives... and it's often impossible to change without first being challenged.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Protag Problems

Growing up, the stories I wrote always had male protagonists, probably because I was a bit of a tomboy. When I returned to writing for Nanowrimo last year, I again focused on a boy and his male friends; in fact, the only females I included were deceased before the story began or really manipulative, annoying, and overly obsessed with bathrooms. I would not make a very good feminist author.

But now I am finally writing a story that focuses on a female character, at least theoretically. Unfortunately, she was being completely overshadowed by her little brother (of course she has a little brother – apparently I can’t let go of writing about boys that easily). He was always supposed to be precocious, but I went overboard and he ended up shouldering most of the emotional and problem-solving load while his older sister sat back and thought about how impressed she was with him. Not a good character development strategy.

For some reason I thought that the solution to my character problem was adding another one, so I wrote in an edgy, exciting female character. Then I realized that by adding her I had made my original protag even more irrelevant... They were even the same age! I realized (or finally admitted to myself) that I needed to go back and make my original female character more exciting from the beginning, even though that would mean adding scenes, swapping dialogue, and spending a good deal of time figuring out more about her. I also decided to keep the trio but make the third character a male around the same age. It lets my protag stand out more and opens the door for a romance, which I hear YA audiences like, or something.

Cue an evening of extensive pondering and editing. I was initially reluctant, but it actually went better than expected, and I'm more content with all of my characters now. Plus, even with all the editing, I still managed to write over 1000 words of new material. More importantly, I finally sprang my characters out of prison, a process that I started many weeks ago (the last time that I worked on this story).

And so, I must end by offering my sincerest apologies to Kass/Collin, my poor character who spent weeks dangling on a window ledge waiting for me, only to undergo an unexpected gender change when I returned.


The businesses and school districts near where I live love acronyms (this may have something to do with the fact that many people in the area work for the government) so I’ve learned to embrace them too. Other writing blogs have introduced me to several useful ones for writing, including WIP for work in progress, SNI for shiny new idea, and MC for main character (though I think I prefer protag for protagonist). 

I currently have a number of WIPs that are sure to come up here and there on this blog. None of the titles floating around in my head are set in stone, so I might as well introduce them with their own acronyms: 

ATS: the YA dystopian novel that is currently demanding most of my writing attention. Two siblings go on the run when the boy’s abilities attract the attention of a repressive and paranoid post-apoc government. 

10MPH: the non-fiction bicycle travelogue that I probably should be working on instead, since it currently has the most material and best chance of being published. It’s an adaptation of the blog that my husband and I wrote about our tandem bicycle trip across the country.

CA/P: A collection of concepts, characters, and written but disconnected scenes that will someday come together into probably two (but maybe one or three) dark YA fantasy novels. I have a number of rough storylines and characters, all of whom enter the same fantasy world, but I haven’t figured out how connected they are to each other yet. I’m thinking of tackling part of this mess for Nanowrimo, but I need to do more planning first. 

TT: A time-travel comedy, very much in the beginning stages, that is my alternative plan for Nanowrimo. In an ideal world it would be the time-travel version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but I know that I’m no Douglas Adams. 

S: My Nanowrimo project from last year. It’s about a boy who tries to flee the death of his mother and tension with his father by riding his bicycle around the eastern US. He meets up with another high school boy and they have various adventures, self-realizations, and near-death experiences. I finished a full draft and planned to call it Shift, until I discovered that someone had already written a book called Shift, and that it was also about two boys who escape their parental problems by riding their bicycles across the country. Arrrggg. I’m shelving the project for now, but I may be able to use the first third to lead into a completely different book idea, so we’ll see.   

It’s the first day of Gear-Up-for-Write-Every-Day-In-October-In-Preparation-for-National-Novel-Writing-Month (GUWEDIOIPNaNoWriMo), so I should probably stop blogging and get to work on ATS.  


Friday, September 24, 2010


I’ve always wanted to be an author.

And yes, I know that everyone uses that exaggerated claim, but really... I started practicing when I could barely write. I would compose my stories sitting at the kitchen counter as my mother, God bless her, told me how to spell each and every word, letter by letter. It was painstaking for me and undoubtedly mind-numbing for her, but the stories inside of me about an ant baseball league and a boy’s lost piano clearly needed to be told. 

I kept writing through the years and even won a few awards, but I never wrote anything very extensive. My creative writing really ground to a halt when I decided to major and then Master in English; all of my writing time was spent dissecting other people’s fiction rather than crafting my own. 

After graduation, I found a job that I still enjoy and plan to do for quite some time (teaching English at the community college level). But not-so-deep inside me, I still wanted to be a writer. In fact, I just knew that I would someday be published, even though I wasn’t doing much to get there. 

My loving husband encouraged (prodded, pestered) me to really pursue my dream. So I did what any grad student would do: I conducted research, reading scores of books and blogs on writing. And I discovered an important secret: in order to become a writer, you need to write… consistently. Shocking, I know. So I leapt into Nanowrimo, and, fueled by the self-competition, the community of support, and the colorful progress chart, I succeeded in logging my 50,000 words. But then the buzz faded and my writing slowed to a crawl again… or at least a crawl broken up by intermittent and unpredictable sprints. Consistency is apparently not my strong point. 

But now I’m trying again. It’s time for me to really go for it, even though I still have a lot to learn and most of my plans (for both plotlines and my writing life) are far from fully formed.

 I do know that I’m repeating Nanowrimo (and so is the aforementioned husband this time, which is very exciting and motivating), but I don’t want to wait until November to start my writing goals. This is supposed to be a lifelong commitment, after all. (Insert analogy to crash dieting versus a healthy lifestyle here.) My current goals are to write something every day in October, complete Nanowrimo in November, and then continue to write consistently in the following months thanks to some to-be-determined goal. I did warn you that my plans were hazy, right?

This blog is meant to keep me accountable, to exercise my writing skills, and to share my creative journey, wherever it ends up taking me. You should also expect a few random stories about teaching, ultimate frisbee, and raptors. 

Thanks for following along!