Monday, October 27, 2014

NaNoWriMo countdown


I am, once again, joining the several thousand fools who are attempting to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. That's a little over 1,000 words a day, to end up with a novel about the length of "The Great Gatsby."

I know I said I didn't want to have two unedited manuscripts laying around--I wanted to finish one completely before starting another--but I changed my mind. My logic is that when I get bored with editing one, I can edit the other! Plus, I've got this great story idea, and I feel like I need to tell it. So I'm going to. (Even though I work 12-hour days, not including my commute.) If things are a little quiet around here for the month of November, it's because I'm insanely doing this insane thing.

If you're interested in joining the madness and fun, but don't consider yourself a writer, or if you're uncertain, I say GO FOR IT! You have nothing to lose! I've done it twice--the first time in 2009, and again last year. In 2009, I didn't technically "win" by reaching the 50,000-word count. BUT, I did write a 30,000-word memoir of my experience selling Kirby vacuums door to door, and I never would have had that manuscript unless I did NaNoWriMo. The point is to just get it on paper. Even if it's crap. Because you can turn 50,000 words of crap into a novel. You can't turn a lack of 50,000 words into a novel.

And I highly recommend joining the NaNoWriMo website! You get pep talks and encouraging emails and can be notified of cool events in your area and connect with fellow writers!

Any fellow NaNos out there? The kick-off is this Saturday, so this week, I'm loading up on inspiration and EasyMac. I thought I'd share some great story-writing resources that I've used in the past. These are helpful whether you're writing a screenplay, a stage play, a novel, or a short story.

Pep talks from the NaNoWriMo website
One of the great things about signing up on the NaNoWriMo website is that you get regular emails from famous authors, offering you advice and encouragement. You can also access all the past Pep Talks here. I'm especially inspired by the talks from John Green, Scott Westerfeld, and Dave Eggers.

Scriptnotes Podcast
John August (Go, Big Fish, Charlie's Angels) and Craig Mazin (Identity Thief, Scary Movie 4, The Hangover Part II) are two successful LA screenwriters who do a weekly podcast about screenwriting and things of interest to screen-writers. I've never written a screenplay in my life, but I find SO MUCH HELPFUL ADVICE from these guys. They talk about everything from character to dialogue to plot structure to lying and secrets. Almost all of it has crossover into novel-writing. Check it out on iTunes or here.

Blog Novel Doctor
I stumbled upon this blog last year while looking for some advice on how to get over writer's block, and ended up reading through almost the entire archive. There are tons of resources on how to outline a novel, what to do when you get stuck, and how to keep your head in the game. Check it out here.

Advice from Pixar
Someone fantastic took a bunch of statements and ideas from Pixar about how to create good stories, and put them together in a cool visual presentation called "Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling." There are lots of helpful reminders and good ideas. Check it out here.

Outlining Resources from Creative Writing Now
It can be a little overwhelming to try to tackle something as big as a NOVEL. I'm a big fan of outlines and planning tools--they saved my butt in past years. Some people prefer to write without them, but I find that it helps me stay organized and guided. This website has some great printable worksheets, and you can create your own based on their ideas. I'm an especially big fan of the Novel Outline, the Scene Outline, and the Character Outline. Check out the website here.

And of course, if you just google "novel writing tips," you'll find oodles of resources more.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Minor Crisis: A Psychological Self-Analysis

WARNING: This blog post is an unflinching and slightly embarrassing glance into my own psyche. 

Good news! I got a regular full-time job!

Bad news! I didn't get a call-back for Barefoot in the Park!

And all of these things are creating in me a whirlwind of emotions and it's kind of overwhelming. So I'm going to write about it because that helps me process it. And I'm going to post it here because sometimes talking about things helps others to deal with similar experiences. Here's what's going on.


I've been subbing for a couple of months all over Utah Valley. After subbing for the secretary at a private school in Salt Lake City, they asked if I'd be interested in becoming a permanent in-house sub for them. I said yes, and THEN I found out they were looking for a permanent secretary. So I put my name forward and got the job! I'm a real adult, with a salary and benefits and a 45-minute commute and everything. It's kind of lame that I can't just take a day off whenever I want to, like I could when I was subbing. But it's nice to be paid almost twice as much now as I was as a substitute.

And the job is way less intense than teaching is. Teaching involves a lot of classroom management and planning and grading and talking and running activities and supervising and it's generally exhausting. I feel like that's not the kind of thing I can give to a school full-time right now. But I CAN sit at a desk and answer phones and organize files and hand out band-aids and deal with student discipline. And when the school day ends, my work ends--there's none of this silly after hours planning business.

But for some reason, I find myself feeling incredibly anxious while I sit at this desk every day. It might be because I have to get up earlier than usual, and lack of sleep makes me more prone to anxiety. But if I tune in to my body while I'm at school, I notice that my jaw is clenched and my stomach is tight and my breath is shallow. And I couldn't figure out why I kept needing to do calming exercises.

So here's my theory.

It always takes me a while to find my footing in a new group of people. It's easier with theatre people, because they're my "tribe" and I already know the "script" for social interactions in a theatre. In this educational world, I have things in common with the teachers and administrators that I work with, but it's harder for me to...connect. I feel shy and not very confident and generally a little lost. That's true of ANY new job--I always feel like the new kid at the lunch table, certain that no one will like me.

In the first few days here, out of uncertainty about my place, I let my slight OCD run its course unbridled--the desk was organized and everything was labeled and I was effing efficient. And in very complimentary ways, everyone was like, "This is awesome! You're so efficient! You're so good at this job!"

And in a bizarre Pavlovian response, here's what I think my brain subconsciously did:
"That's how I'll get everyone to like me! I'll be efficient and good at being a secretary!"

Then suddenly, every single thing I did as a secretary was a representation of my worth as a human being. So it had to be PERFECT! Because if it wasn't perfect, I was a crappy human and no one would like me! So the names on the files all had to be the same size! The drawers always had to be organized! Everything had to be color-coded! All the pencils had to be sharpened and all the pens had to have caps! Because if not, I SUCK!

This is how perfectionism is the worst.


So even though I'm single cast in Damn Yankees and would have to miss like, 10 rehearsals, I auditioned for "Barefoot in the Park." I feel like I could be a decent Corie, and I was interested in the challenge and fun of the part. I feel like I did pretty good at auditions, but thought I probably wouldn't get cast. There are dozens of capable actresses who could play that part and who DON'T have major schedule conflicts. But I had this horribly narcissistic vision that I'd be good enough to warrant a call-back--that I'd impress the auditioners so much that they'd call me back, even though I wouldn't get the part.

And then I didn't get called back.

Which was lame.

The rejection you have to deal with in this industry is well-known for being torturous. I felt certain for a while that I was the ugliest, least talented, most terrible actress ever. Because of one audition I didn't get called back for. And because I was also dealing with this neurotic perfectionism thing from work, not getting called back felt like the final nail in the coffin of my self-esteem.


So after moping and feeling miserable for the first half of the week, and feeling guilty about feeling miserable, I finally did this:

1. Gave myself permission to take some time to mourn/feel miserable/feel mopey. 
I didn't want to wallow forever, but it was perfectly understandable that I was not exactly feeling cheerful. And that's allowed. I'm allowed to feel sad sometimes! So I gave myself some time to do that.

2. Gave myself this reminder: 

It's a lesson I keep needing to learn over and over again, but if you form friendships by not being genuine, those friendships will feel like work for the rest of your life. I don't want that. I want to just be me. I want to be comfortable in my own skin. It just takes a few daily reminders sometimes to do that. Because I don't have to prove my worth to anyone else. I'm valuable just because I'm a human being. And if the file labels aren't perfectly straight, I'm still a good person.

3. Remembered that Heavenly Father guides my life if I allow Him to. 
So I didn't get cast in Barefoot in the Park. It could just be that I wasn't right for the part. But it could also be that and that there's something else for me to be doing right now. There may be other people to meet or other projects to do. Or maybe doing the show would be taxing in ways I hadn't anticipated. Whatever it is, I trust that things will all work out.

4. Began to focus outward. 
Pride isn't self-love. It's self-obsession. When I allow my thoughts of perfectionism to rule me, when I hang my entire self-worth on things as arbitrary as clerical tasks or as uncontrollable as auditions, it's self-obsession. I think self-love is healthy. Self-obsession shuts you off from inspiration, keeps you from connecting with others, prevents you from living in the moment, and generally makes you unhappy. It's one of the hardest lessons I've ever learned (over and over again), but in my own experience, it really is true that if you lose yourself in the service of others, you find yourself.

So if you'll excuse me, I'm going to end this blog entry that's all about me and try to be kind to those around me.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Secret Service (not the spy kind, though)

So I finished my first Personal Progress activity a week or so ago! (I'm doing the required value experiences as one of my "9 Goals While 29" this year.) I did one for Good Works, and it was actually just a little bit harder than I thought it would be. Here's what I did:

Learn why service is a fundamental principle of the gospel. Read Matthew 5:13–16; 25:34–40; Galatians 6:9–10; James 1:22–27; Mosiah 2:17; 4:26; and 3 Nephi 13:1–4. Others often give service you may not notice, such as preparing meals, reading to or listening to younger children, repairing clothing, or helping a brother or sister. For two weeks record in your journal the quiet acts of service your family members and others perform. Acknowledge their service in some meaningful way.

Here's why it was difficult. Number one, my current family is me and my husband. I don't have siblings or parents at home to observe. Number two, as the scriptures above talk about, one fundamental part of service seems to be discretion. So it's hard to observe others doing service when most people are trying to keep their service on the DL.

(This also makes it difficult to "acknowledge their service in some meaningful way." I can either publicly "out" people for doing nice things, or I can creepily be like, "Hey, I saw you do that nice thing. I've been watching you. Good job." So this is my way of acknowledging the service of others.)

When we think of service, I think we most often think of "tasks"--doing the dishes, making a meal. And I did observe this kind of service in others. There were times when people helped clean up the theatre before or during rehearsal, or when Jacob did the dishes, or a friend sent an encouraging text message. But I was also reminded that good works and service can mean anything that shows kindness. The kind of service that was really meaningful and inspiring was mostly very small. It was a compliment given briefly in passing, or someone asking how someone's day was and sincerely listening to the answer. I think that simple, sincere friendliness might be the most powerful kind of good works out there.

It's also contagious. Watching others around me be friendly inspired me to be more of a "giver" in my relationships.

To be vulnerable for a moment, I, like every artist (okay, like every human being), go through phases when I feel insecure and don't have any confidence and just feel certain that no one actually likes me. The thing is that these thoughts and feelings have nothing to do with my interactions with others--it's just me freaking out. And those times make me a "taker" in my relationships--I start to feel this desperate need for others to validate me as a human being. And that kind of need doesn't make me a very good friend.

It's kind of counter-intuitive, but the reality is that the antidote for a lack of confidence around others is to SERVE others. Low self-esteem makes you feel like you don't have much to give, but the reality is that giving fills you up. It turns friendships into something you desperately NEED (even though it's never enough) to something that uplifts and inspires and strengthens everyone involved. I feel a little bit guilty for forgetting this as often as I do. (To my friends and acquaintances, I'm sorry for that. I'll keep working on it.)

Thank you for your wonderful examples! You make me want to be better and to lift others up. Keep being kind, people. It's rocking my world.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A poem, or "Public school is hell"


I've been busy doing "Damn Yankees!" and substitute teaching, so the blog has been a little neglected. But today I was digging through some old poems and came across this one, so I thought I'd share. I wrote it while I was doing my substitute teaching back in 2012. I was focusing a lot on imagery at the time, and it's not my best work, but it kind of stood out to me today; I think because I've been spending time in public schools again lately. 

Dante’s Industrial Kitchen

Steam rises
in ephemeral bursts
mushrooming out from the
heinous, Dante-esque mouth
of the automatic dishwasher.

A school cafeteria is full of medieval hell-mouths.

Dirt is fed into it on a conveyor belt
and with every hiss and puff of super-heated steam,
trays come out clammy and sanitized from the other end.

A middle-aged woman
with outdated pants and keys on a lanyard in her pocket
stacks the trays with no expression.
Her feet hurt. This is her job.
Her non-slip shoes make sucking sounds
as she steps through soapy puddles
to the sink.
Rubs her red-cracked hands on a paper towel
and begins stacking trays again.

The kids with IEPs
walk from the dishwasher to the sink
and back again
like the tigers in city zoos
who have developed obsessive-compulsive disorders
in the absence of higher stimulation
walking back and forth and back and forth
repeating a task they are destined to repeat.

And there are all these kids,
standing in line.
The tills fill up as we
perpetuate the illusion of them walking
in empty and coming out full.
They check their phones and stare into space and
talk to each other but not to the girl whose shoes are too big.
They stand with the rain from the courtyard
on their shoulders,
the heat of the room making steam to rise
in ephemeral snaking columns.

(In a shameless bit of self-promotion, if you're interested in more of my poetry, I have a published book of it! You can buy it here, or on Or if we're friends and I see you regularly, I've got a dozen copies or so I can give out--just ask.)