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Monthly Archives: May 2014

Lead with Your Kidneys, or, How to Be Direct, in Writing and in Life

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Lead with Your Kidneys, or, How to Be Direct, in Writing and in Life

The other day Sergiy (my Ukrainian ESL Skype student) and I worked on a lesson from his book entitled “Everyday English: Softening the Message.” We discussed differences among the following:
Help me.
Can you help me?
I wonder if you could help me?
I was wondering if you could possibly help me?

“Notice,” I told Sergiy, “when we are being more direct, we tend to use less words.”

*  *  *

After the lesson, I went to a yoga class taught by a middle-aged yogi I’ll call Matthew. Usually he’s very mellow — sort of a “do what your body tells you to do” type of teacher — but today he was working us really hard. The woman in front of me sweated so much she looked like she’d just stepped out of the shower.

“As you come into downward dog,” he told us towards the end of class, “lead with your kidneys and let them draw your body upwards.”

Hmm, I thought. I don’t actually know where my kidneys are.  But I tried as best I could to lead with them.

He walked to the girl next to me. “Lead with your kidneys,” he told her.

“I don’t know what you mean by that,” she huffed.

“Just tighten your abs.”

“Oh,” she said, and I bet she was wondering why he hadn’t said that in the first place.

As everyone was packing up their mats, Matthew asked me what I’d thought of the class.

What I wanted to say was that it had been a really good work-out, but I felt like I couldn’t say that. I didn’t want to make it sound like I was comparing his yoga class to an aerobics power-hour at the gym. I know that feeling the burn isn’t the point of yoga.

So I flipped through my catalogue of new-age vocabulary, trying to find a word that would mean “like an aerobics class but more spiritual.”  I couldn’t think of anything.

“It was very…invigorating,” I ended up saying, but that wasn’t true at all. I didn’t feel invigorated. I felt tired. His class had worn me out.

This is where your kidneys are. Who knew?

 

Lately I’ve been realizing how often I soften my message.

“Sometimes I have no idea what you’re trying to tell me,” Paul said the other day. “I know you’re trying to not hurt my feelings, but I wish you’d just say what you mean because I get confused.”

He’s right. There’s no sense in softening the message if it means people don’t get the message at all.

So I’m making an effort to be more direct: to figure out first what it is I want to say, and then to find the most effective way to communicate it.

I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, but I also don’t want to end up saying something that is so vague or convoluted that it loses all meaning.

And I think the same goes for writing. Be direct. Be clear. There are exceptions, but for the most part, say exactly what you mean.

I remember a grad school class in which we looked at a description of a character crying.  It went something like this:    Her eyes were two pools of water, and as she blinked, the crystalline tears rolled down her cheeks, dripping off her chin. 

“Why not just say, “she cried?”” the professor said.  “It’s cleaner.”

At the time, this piece of advice shocked me. Wasn’t good writing “descriptive as hell?” Was it possible that a two word sentence could be considered better writing than a long one filled with descriptive language?

I’ve come to realize that it is possible, and usually preferable.  Being direct is usually the best way to convey your meaning, and as I told Sergiy, when we are being direct we tend to use less words.

So that’s all I’ll say.  For now.

IMG_3250

 

9 Words to Get Rid of in Your Writing

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9 Words to Get Rid of in Your Writing

Well, it’s Memorial Day, and Paul and I were going to go sailing, but I’m sick with a sore throat and an achy body and an all-around pitiful demeanor.  I’m very annoyed.  It seems like I’m always getting sick with these dinky colds that aren’t the worst thing in the world, but they also make me feel like doing nothing but laying around in my pajamas.

“Why do you keep getting sick?” Paul asked me.  “Are you eating your own poop or something?”

I’m definitely not eating my poop.  I blame the elementary school children I work with, but honestly, I try not to touch those adorable little germ bags.

I’m not sure why I’m sick, but I’m going to try to still be somewhat productive while I am.  My plan is that while I’m laying around in my pajamas, I will polish up one of my novels before sending out some query letters.  Since I was feeling too yucky to write a new entry for today, I am posting an old one, originally from April 2013.  These reminders will be helpful as I polish my novel, and hopefully they will be helpful to you, too.

9 WORDS TO GET RID OF IN YOUR WRITING

1. just – I just can’t get enough of this word and just can’t seem to stop using it in my writing. Usually I just have to go through and cut out all the justs. Usually “just” just isn’t needed.

2. that – Example: She dropped the necklace down the front of her shirt so that the charm rested between her breasts. Do we really need “that”? Take it out and see how it sounds.

3. said – I’m all for making it clear who says what. But if it’s already clear, cut the dialog tag. This is especially easy to do when there’s already an action associated with the speaker. For example, change this: “You’re insane,” Diane said, backing away to “You’re insane.” Diane backed away.

4. can – Instead of I can hear the crows cawing outside my window or I can feel my breakfast churning in my gut, how about I hear the crows cawing and I feel my breakfast churning. OR even better, The crows caw outside my window and My breakfast churns inside my gut. You see how much tighter that is?

5. seem – Instead of telling how something “seems” tell us how it IS. Let us make our own judgments.

6. suddenly – In stories everything is always happening without warning. Suddenly the door burst open. Suddenly she turned to me and kissed me. 95% of the time, you can cut the suddenly.

7. am, was, were – Use active, simple verb structures whenever possible. Instead of We were standing next to the statue write We stood next to the statue.

8. really, very – Unless they’re really very necessary.

9. haughtily, forcefully, demonically and other adverbs – As much as I love the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling had a serious case of adverb-itis. So don’t do it the J.K. way. Show us that someone is haughty or forceful by their words and actions.

This is the pitiful face I make when I'm sick.

This is the pitiful face I make when I’m sick.

Never Compare a Woman’s Breasts to Mexican Food, or, Take the Ego Out of Writing Workshop

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Never Compare a Woman’s Breasts to Mexican Food, or, Take the Ego Out of Writing Workshop

I’m currently talking a Young Adult fiction workshop class with Stephanie Kuehnert at the Hugo House — the first time I’ve participated in a writing workshop since I finished my MFA in 2009. It’s nice to be surrounded by writers once again, and I’ve been having flashbacks to some of the more memorable workshop moments of my past.

I remember workshopping a chapter of a memoir written by a guy we’ll call “Jay.” In the chapter, Jay hooks up with two wannabe-actresses in a hotel room. Both of the actresses have enticingly prominent breasts, and a large chunk of the chapter was devoted to Jay’s descriptions of the breasts, for which he used increasingly creative euphemisms. He called them “sweater kittens,” “chest pillows,” “puppies,” and, at one point, “chimichangas.” This led to me making one of the most epic critique comments in all of writing workshop history: “never compare a woman’s breasts to Mexican food.”

“I felt like I had written the word ‘breast’ too many times,” Jay explained. “I thought it would be funny.”

That’s the way it goes in workshop. Sometimes it’s hard to hear what other people have to say, and the tendency is to want to defend yourself.  But often there’s truth in the criticism, and if you incorporate some of those comments into the piece, you’ll make it better. I know there are people who think workshops homogenize everyone’s writing, or that too many cooks spoil the short story, but for the most part, getting other people to read and honestly critique your work is a good and necessary thing. It’s hard to judge your own writing.

Never compare a woman's breasts to Mexican food.

Never compare a woman’s breasts to Mexican food.

But bringing your piece to the public chopping block can be a scary thing. When I was getting my MFA, I was young and desperate for approval, desperate for someone to tell me that I had enough talent to pursue writing as a career. My ego was both big and fragile, like a giant porcelain vase. And so, when it came time for workshop, I would often submit my best, most polished stories instead of the ones I actually needed help with.

Recently I read an article about taking the ego out of yoga, and it made me realize that you also need to take the ego out of workshop. The point of yoga isn’t to impress people, and that’s not the point of a writing workshop either.

There have been times in a yoga class when I haven’t tried a difficult pose because I was afraid I would look foolish in front of the class. There are other times when I have hurt myself by going too far — turning yoga into a competitive sport. In both cases, I failed to take the ego out of my practice.

It’s a little different with writing. You need an ego to write. Your ego is what says, “I am a unique person with something important to say.” But when it comes time to workshop what you’ve written, it’s best to put the ego on the back burner. Instead of going in with your best pieces, hoping to impress people or look smart, submit the stuff you need the most help with, and go into workshop ready to openly receive constructive criticism. Instead of defending yourself or arguing with classmates about what you “meant” by a certain line, absorb their comments and consider them.

Just like a yoga instructor can make adjustments to your poses, your classmates can make suggestions and comments about your writing because they are seeing it from a different perspective. Even with a mirror, it’s hard to know what you actually look like in a yoga pose because you are a part of it, and for the same reason, it’s sometimes it’s hard to see your writing for what it is. If you can listen to your classmates suggestions and consider them carefully, you will end up making adjustments that improve your piece. I feel confident that every single story I’ve workshopped has become better in the process. I didn’t follow all of the suggestions, but I listened to them all carefully.

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Last week I was trying to decide which chapter to submit for my group critique tonight in class. I finally picked one of my worst chapters (in my opinion), containing the scene I’m most unsure about. I worried briefly what my classmates would think of me: That I’m not a very good writer? That they can’t believe I actually have an MFA? But then I let my ego go. It’s the chapter I need the most help with, and isn’t that why we workshop our writing in the first place? Maybe my classmates will be able to see something in it that I can’t see.

In that nonfiction workshop back in the 2008, after we bashed Jay’s chimichanga piece for being sexist and ridiculous, he thanked us for the feedback. “I didn’t realize people would see it that way,” he said. He was good-natured and humble, which are two very good qualities to cultivate when having your writing critiqued. I can only assume he took to heart my suggestion: never compare a woman’s breasts to Mexican food.

How to Get Published in Literary Magazines

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How to Get Published in Literary Magazines

*Also see my post here:  Mistakes Writers Make When Submitting to Literary Magazines*

Recently serenitysearcherii asked me “how do you know which review or journal to send your work to?”

It’s a good question, and one I feel relatively qualified to answer since I taught a workshop called “Getting Published in Literary Magazines” at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference and participated in a similarly-themed panel at the Burlesque Press Hands-On Writers’ Conference.

So, the first thing you need to ask yourself is this: WHY DO YOU WANT TO GET PUBLISHED IN LITERARY JOURNALS? 

1. To see your name and words in print (and/or impress friends and family).
2. To feel encouraged or validated. (This is no small thing. Writing is a hard, lonely slog, and sometimes getting a story or poem published in a journal can be just the pick-me-up you need to keep working at it.)
3. To possibly catch the eye of an agent. (This does happen — I had an agent contact me after reading one of my stories in Talking River Review.)
4. To put on your resume, CV, or list of “published works” on your website.
5. To sound professional when you send a query letter to an agent about your book. (Some agents care that you’ve been published before; some don’t.)
6. To help you network and build platform.

If your motives are mostly #1 or #2, you might want to consider submitting to newer journals, online journals, and less popular/prestigious journals, as they are going to have fewer submissions and will be more likely to accept your piece.

If your motives are mostly #3, #4, or #5, you might want to focus on more popular or prestigious journals. In this case, you should submit to a lot of places because these magazines have ridiculously tiny acceptance rates. Even really stellar stories are often rejected.

If your motive is mostly #6, you may want to consider focusing on online journals. It’s good to have a link where followers can go to read your work online instead of telling them to purchase the paper copy of the journal your piece appears in. With online journals, you are also more likely to get feedback from readers, thus helping you network. I’ve had people send me messages or leave comments on my blog because they read a story of mine in an online journal.

Jeni Stewart of Burlesque Press

Jeni Stewart of Burlesque Press

HOW DO YOU FIND THESE JOURNALS?

To find new journals and magazines that are actively seeking submissions, check NewPages, The Review Review, the AWP website, and Poets&Writers, as well as blogs, twitter, and facebook. Poets&Writers has an excellent search system where you can type in the specifics of the journals you are looking for, and The Review Review does just that:  reviews literary journals to help give you a sense of the types of pieces they publish.

To find those fancy, prestigious journals, check the Pushcart Rankings, Every Writer’s Resource Rankings, Web del Sol Rankings, and look at short story and poetry collections such as Best American, O’Henry, Pushcart, and Flannery O’Conner — somewhere at the front or back of the book they will tell where each piece was first published. Also tweet at your favorite literary agents and ask them what lit mags they like to read.

To find online journals, do all of the above, and check the Every Writer’s Resource Ranking of the fifty best online journals.  (I’m sure there are other lists of this sort as well — google it.)

 

WHAT ARE SOME BEST PRACTICES?  

• Submit as much as possible! In a way, it’s really a numbers game. Of course you should submit your best work, but the more you submit the more you increase your chances of hitting the right editor at the right time and getting an acceptance. Don’t take rejections too seriously. God knows I’ve gotten a ton of them.

• Keep track of your submissions. Create a spreadsheet with the name of the journal, what you submitted and when, and what the response was. I’ve made the embarrassing mistake of sending a piece to a journal that I had already sent them — and they had already rejected! Don’t let that happen to you!

• Read literary magazines. Most journals are going to suggest that you read a few back issues first to get a sense of what they publish. In an ideal world, you would do this, but chances are you don’t have time to read multiple back issues of every single journal you’re going to submit to. So just make it your goal to read more lit mags than you currently do. Maybe subscribe to one or two a year. Maybe get your writerly friends to subscribe to different ones and then trade. Read the free online ones when you have a few spare moments. I submitted stories to Fence for years without reading it. Finally I got a subscription, and suddenly I understood why they weren’t accepting my stuff — Fence is super modern and experimental, and my stories just weren’t what they tend to publish. Reading the magazines doesn’t always help you understand the editors’ tastes, but it can.

• Be SURE to follow submission guidelines. It sounds silly, but double check everything — Is there a word count requirement? Do they not want your name on the piece? Do they require a cover page? Do they not accept simultaneous submissions?

• Speaking of simultaneous submissions… A lot of magazines accept them, and if they don’t say that they don’t, then you can safely assume that they do. This is good. This means you can send the same story to multiple journals at one time. And you should do this. It takes forever to hear back from journals, and remember, this is a numbers game.  But if your piece gets picked up by a journal, you must let the other journals you submitted it to know. The worst is when a reading committee debates over a story for a long time, decides to accept it, and then finds out it’s been published somewhere else. Basically, they will hate you forever after that. Remember, common courtesy goes a long way, and editors have long memories.

 Submit to your top choices first. If you are going for the more prestigious journals, submit to your top tier journals first.  If you get rejected from those, submit to your second tier, and so on.

Research a few journals a month. There are so many journals. It can seem totally overwhelming. Take a deep breath. Just research a few a month. Read what they’re looking for, or read pieces from a few of their issues  if possible (no need to read cover-to-cover).  In your research, you might find that a magazine has a theme issue coming up, or a special contest with a prompt. These themes and prompts might spawn new ideas! So even though creative writers tend to hate research, your creativity could be sparked from it.

 If you have genre pieces, research where to send them. There are magazines that specialize in horror, sci-fi/fantasy, mystery, romance, LGBT, YA, and other genre pieces.  Dark Markets is a good resource to find horror, mystery, sci-fi/fantasy, and other genre magazines and anthologies.  Also, be aware that some literary magazines will NOT accept genre pieces.

 Make a submission goal. Whether it’s to submit twice a week, once a month, or five times by Christmas, making and keeping a goal can be helpful.  I’ve also known writers who get together for “submission parties” every so often to do research and submitting together with a platter of snacks.

Trust me on these.  I taught a class on how to get published in lit mags.

Trust me on this. I taught a class on how to get published in lit mags.

Eva’s Journal Picks:
The Burlesque Press Variety Show (online)they publish often, so they are always looking for short submissions of all kinds — stories, essays, poems, recipes, etc.! 

•Brevity (online) — extremely brief essays and book reviews

 Café Irreal (online) – absurd, irreal short fiction (think Kafka)

• Carve (online and print) – “honest” fiction inspired by Raymond Carver… literary short stories

• Crazyhorse – consistently wonderful fiction and poetry; quite prestigious

Compose Literary Journal (online) — short fiction and poetry; super supportive editors

Fail Better (online) –poems and stories

• Front Porch Journal (online) –nice people, nice journal; check out their video and audio archive of famous authors reading and discussing their work

The Indiana Review – I love their poetry, and their fiction is good, too; highly ranked

Literary Juice (online) – fun, fast fiction

Narrative (online) – One of the best and most populat online magazines. I love their Poem of the Week

The Normal School – eclectic fiction, CNF, and poetry

• The Sun –both personal and political; CNF, poetry, and stories

Zoetrope – hip and edgy with celebrity guest editors

 All the magazines in which my work has appeared.  I mean, if they published me, so they gotta be good, right?  (Ha ha.)

And of course there are many, many, many, many more magazines than the ones I mentioned.  There’s a place for your work, you just have to be tenacious to find it.  Good luck!  And happy submitting!

Read those lit mags!

What I Learned at Acrobatics Class, or, How to Let Your Words Fly

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What I Learned at Acrobatics Class, or, How to Let Your Words Fly

*Check out my Story Spotlight and Interview guest posts on the Carve Magazine blog!*

On Tuesday, Paul and I went to an acrobatics class. We both have not-so-secret fantasies of running away to join the circus, and we figured this was the first logical step.

We had absolutely no idea what to expect, and the website gave no details other than the time, price, and location of the class. But this was good, I thought. I need to do random, unusual things sometimes so that I always have experiences to write about.

We arrived at the OmCulture studio on the second floor of a warehouse by Lake Union. It was an enormous room with beautifully-draped tapestries billowing from the high ceiling and a Buddha statue sitting next to the door to the bathrooms. Best of all was the wide expanse of soft, squishy carpet.

“This carpet is so inviting,” I said as Paul and I sat down and began to stretch. “It makes me want to roll around.”

“Why don’t you?” This suggestion came from a gay man with fashionably-hip bleached blonde hair and a lithely athletic body. He was currently rolling around in happy baby position with his hands on his feet, rocking back and forth like an up-turned turtle. His two friends, who were also gay men with the bodies of modern dancers, were busy doing perfectly-executed headstands along with stretches that closely resembled some contortionist acts I’ve seen.

“Yeah, I should,” I said, but suddenly I felt a little out of place. On my other side, a couple had begun to work through an acrobatics routine in which the man lay on the floor with his feet in the air and moved the woman through a series of balancing acts that were, in theory, what Paul and I hoped to accomplish here, but seeing them up-close made me feel that perhaps we were in over our heads.

This is not the couple who was next to us, but this is the sort of thing they were doing.

Warm-ups began — a series of somersaults, push-ups, cartwheels, high kicks, and monkey jumps. Paul and I giggled our way through them…  and then it was time to fly!

Over the next hour, Paul and I practiced two beginner acro moves, and although it was awkward at first, we managed to get my feet off the ground and my body hovering precariously over Paul’s.  We left class feeling proud of ourselves.

So here are my take-aways from the acro class. Like everything, I think these lessons can also apply to writing, and probably life, too.

#1 You need a good base and a strong core.
The first position we tried was a front plank. It was your basic “airplane,” with Paul’s feet on my hipbones as I tried to lift up and “fly” over his body. I was glad that Paul has strong legs to hold my body weight, and when I lifted up, I found myself engaging my abs tighter than I ever have in my life. I had to stay really strong, or I’d fall.

If you want to be a writer, you need to have a strong base, too. You need to read a lot and live a lot. You need to study what makes good writing and a good story. And then, when you’ve got the foundation, you’re ready to fly.  That’s when you’ve got to hold tight to your core — to that desire deep in your gut that says “I am a writer and I have a story to tell.” Writing is really hard, and you’re going to have to find a way to stay strong.

Front plank, done way better than Paul and I were doing it.  Photo credit.

Front plank, done way better than Paul and I were doing it. Photo credit.

#2 It takes a lot of work to make it look effortless.
The second position was back plank. We watched the two instructors demonstrate. Meegan, the flier, balanced her butt on top of her partner’s feet while she talked to us. Her tightly-muscled body was long and straight as a board. Her toes were pointed. Her arms were graceful at her sides. “Listen,” she said, “if you’re the base, do your flier a favor and don’t make them hang out here forever, unless you really hate them, because they are working their asses off up here.”

It certainly didn’t look like she was working hard, but when I tried it for myself I could not believe how incredibly difficult it was to lift my legs off the ground. They felt like two tree lead poles. “Oh my god!” I said, pressing at my abs. “How did she do that?”

Read any elegantly-written book or essay or short story. The words and images flow gracefully and the result seems effortless, but I guarantee the author practiced a ton and worked his or her ass off to make it seem that way.

#3 Lift your chest high, but always look at your toes.
When Meegan came to watch me and Paul struggling with back plank she said, “with your head back like that, Eva, you can’t see where you are in space. Puff up your chest and look at your toes.” And suddenly, balancing on Paul’s feet went from impossibly hard to extremely hard but doable.

Lately I’ve been realizing that a hindrance to my writing is my lack of confidence. There are plenty of wannbe writers out there with delusions of grandeur about their own work, but I am on the opposite end of the spectrum. I doubt my own abilities, and that makes things difficult, too.

The way to find balance in your writing career is to have confidence (puff up your chest), but also be realistic about your work (look at your toes).   Be able to see honestly where your writing is, and where it needs to go.

An extreme version of reverse plank. I was just trying to lie horizontally on Paul’s feet. I can’t imagine how hard it is to go up in a pike like this. And yet she manages to make it look effortless. photo credit.

#4 Play to your strengths.
Several times over the course of the class, I tried to be the base. I wanted to see what it was like, and I wanted to give Paul the chance to fly. At first, I couldn’t do it at all, and I worried that maybe I was too weak and Paul too dense and we were going to end up hurting ourselves. Meegan came over and gave me some pointers, and I was able to fly Paul for a few seconds. I’m sure that if I worked at it, I could learn how to be the base, but I’m much better-suited to being a flier. “I like being a flier better anyway,” I said. “I like being the base better,” Paul said. We decided to stick with our strengths.

In the same way, we all want to try different types of writing sometimes, and of course you should experiment as much as you want and always be open to trying new things. But I’ve known people (myself included) who have tried to write in a certain style or genre because they thought it was more marketable, and the results are almost never good. In the end, write what comes out of you naturally. Write what you enjoy writing. Play to your strengths.

#5 You need to be flexible, but make sure you have stability, too.
Before we left, Paul asked Meegan what he should do prepare for next week’s class. She suggested happy baby stretches and ab work. Being the base is a delicate balance. You have to be flexible enough to straighten your legs into the proper positions, but you also have to be strong and stable to provide a steady platform for your flier.

Being a writer is a delicate balance, too. Being flexible (traveling, having random adventures, etc.) encourages creativity and spawns new ideas, but you also need strong dedication and a stable environment to be able to sit down in front of the computer each day and let your words fly.

What the Heck is a Liebster Award?

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What the Heck is a Liebster Award?

Last year I was nominated by Tony of A Way With Words for the “Inspiring Blogger Award.” But when I read the specifics of the award, it was too much like a chain letter. In order to accept the award and post the cute widget on my page, I had to nominate 15 more bloggers. It seemed to me like eventually everyone and their mom would have the award (and a lot of people’s moms aren’t even bloggers). So I did nothing.

Recently, I was nominated by Adventures of LaMari for the Leibster Award, which is quite similar. Maybe it’s my German heritage (“leibster” means “dearest” auf Deutsch), or maybe it’s because I’ve come to realize that this type of award is really just a nice way to build community and get people reading new blogs, but I’ve decided to accept.

I want to thank LaMari for reading my blog and nominating me. Her blog is a series of intimate, upbeat letters about her travels hither and yon, and definitely worth a look for those with wanderlust.

l award

Now that I have accepted this award, I am supposed to…

1.  List 11 random facts about myself

2.  Answer 11 questions from the blogger who nominated me.  

3.  Nominate 11 more blogs and let them know they’ve been nominated.  

4.  Post 11 new questions for those bloggers.  

Technically, you are supposed to nominate blogs with less than 200 followers, but LaMari fudged on that with me, so I will probably fudge on it, too. The point, I think, is to nominate blogs that aren’t mainstream. (No nominating McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, for example, even though I read it regularly.)

Personally, I think this is all too much to read in one post, so I’m going to skip the 11 random facts about me. If you want to know about me, there are currently 290 posts for you to choose from, all chock full of random facts. Have fun.

I will move on to answering the questions from LaMari.

Why did you start your blog?
Originally as a way of holding myself to some writing goals by posting my progress online for all to see. Also to “build platform,” which is what writers are often told they need to do. I think it’s working, but it’s taken nearly two years of regular blogging to get a decent following.

What is your favorite destination and why?
Maybe a place I haven’t been to yet? I’d love to visit Greece and Savannah, Georgia.

Who is your favorite author and why?
I love Roald Dahl for his clever, unique voice and Janet Fitch for her lyrical language. When I’m in the mood for meta, Paul Auster always astonishes me.

What is your most prized possession?
My collection of diaries and journals dating back to third grade.

What is your favorite quote and by whom?
You will often hear me quoting the following:
“Sah-dah-tay,” which I think means something like, “oh well, that’s life, let’s just smile.” (from the movie Pootie Tang)
“People raise cattle. Children just happen.” (from the movie The House of Yes)
“All right, all right, all right.” (from the movie Dazed and Confused)

What is your favorite post? (please provide link!)

People seem to be fond of my posts about when I was a bar trivia host, such as this one.

My boyfriend likes when I write about my hair dramas, like this post.  

I am proud of my blog posts about drawing, such as this one.

In June my goal was to draw every day.  Here's one of my last drawings -- a self-portrait.

In June 2013 my goal was to draw every day. Here’s one of my last drawings — a self-portrait.

Who is your inspiration and why?
Jennifer Stewart of Burlesque Press because she manages to read every book there is, know everything there is to know about writing, run her own amazing business, and still manage to look fabulous, travel the world, and have a ton of fun.

Also, I’m inspired by women writers everywhere, especially my mentor, Lisa O’Donnell, author of The Death of Bees, and my thesis adviser, Amanda Boyden,author of Pretty Little Dirty and Babylon Rolling.

Classical Music or Rock ‘n Roll?
I know it’s only Rock ‘n’ Roll but I like it.

What do you choose to do as ‘play?’

Taking walks, reading, having a cocktail with friends, dancing, going to shows, plays, performances, festivals, and cultural events.

I also love doing anything that involves animals.  Or randomness.

I love doing anything that involves wild animals. Or randomness.

What is your biggest challenge in blogging?
Not revealing too much and not pissing off friends and family members (which I have done on multiple occasions).

What would you do today if you knew you could not fail?
Is it lame to say I’d play the lottery or go to a casino?  Maybe I’d say that I’d query my dream agent with my manuscript, but I want my future agent to love my work because he/she loves my work, and not because I’m having a magical lucky streak day.

Done.  Moving on.

11 Questions for the bloggers I nominated:
1. What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had?
2. What’s the best book you’ve read in the past year?
3. What do you enjoy most about blogging?
4. What do you do when you’re having writers’ block?
5. What’s the weirdest/funniest comment you’ve ever received on your blog?
6. What’s the best writers conference you’ve ever been to? (And if you’ve never been to one, what conference have you heard good things about?)
7. What’s your Meyer’s Briggs Personality Type? (Mine is
8. Fill in the blank: “writing is like _____________.”
9. Who is your dream literary agent?
10. Why should people read and follow your blog?
11. If you died tomorrow, what would you miss most about your life?

AND MY NOMINEES ARE….

Burlesque Press — As mentioned, Jeni Stewart is my inspiration, and BP is her brainchild.  The Burlesque Press Variety Show is an online literary journal that publishes poetry, fiction, essays, book reviews, and randomness about four times a week.  Every Friday there is a writing prompt.

The Incompetent Writer — Clever Brit Daniel Wallace recently received his PhD in English and Creative Writing.  His brief essays take a look at literature and writing from the academic/intellectual point of view.

Story Water by Jen Violi — YA novelist, editor, and “story coach” Jen Violi offers heart-felt, funny, feel-good, magical-mystical writing advice, tips, and lots of cheery encouragement.

Laekan Zea Kemp is a new adult author who blogs openly about her writing process and gushes about authors she loves.

The HeSo Project is a blog started because author  Tracy said she had ignored her “heart and soul” for too long.  She interviews people and reviews books she finds inspiring.  She blogs about creativity, writing, travel, and about her experiences trying to follow her heart and soul.

Danny Goodman  Writer and editor Danny has a slick-looking blog that offers quick quotes, pictures, links, tips, and general pick-me-ups for the hip author on the go.

Does That Come with Cheese?  I don’t know if you’re allowed to nominate tumblr blogs, but I’m going to because this one makes me laugh out loud on a near-daily basis.  Take ten seconds out of your day to check it out now.  Mostly about being a thirty-something single gal in DC, Allyson is like a cheese-loving combination of Carrie Bradshaw, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jess from The New Girl.

Lonely Boy 1977  Dubbed “the trials and tribulations of a wannabe fantasy/science fiction writer,” Lonely Boy gives some excellent advice and commentary on a variety of writing topics.  His blog is a great resource.

Yoga Makes Me Horny  I love yoga, and this random blog makes me laugh, especially the “celebrity yoga of the week” feature.  Also some good book suggestions, pictures, fashion, and more.

Doorway Between Worlds — Dubbed “Communication tips with a sci-fi/fantasy twist,” this blog is so creative and awesome I find it hard to describe.  Sue Archer explains grammar, relationships, and writing tips in the context of sci-fi and fantasy.  Check it out!

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The most recent “celebrity yogi of the week” from yogamakesmehorny.

Congratulations to my nominees, and to everyone who navigates this (at times overwhelming) world of blogs.  You are all very dear to me.

No Rain & How to Write Without Looking at Your Fingers

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No Rain & How to Write Without Looking at Your Fingers

Is it weird that I want it to rain? I was expecting lots of rain when I moved to Seattle last July, and although I was nervous about getting Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), I was almost looking forward to the gloom. Long strings of rainy days meant that I could hunker down in my cozy little apartment and do lots of reading and writing.

But I was lied to. We’ve all been lied to. Because Seattle is a beautiful, sunny city.

I think there is some sort of a conspiracy going on in which Seattleites try to convince the rest of the country that the city is rainy and undesirable, when in fact, the opposite is true. I see the sun more often than the rain, and when the sun is out, the snow-capped mountains loom behind the glittering waters of Puget Sound, and hundreds of sailboats dot Lake Union, just down the hill from my house.

It’s hard to stay inside on the computer with all that beauty going on. Not only do I feel guilty for not enjoying the weather, I am physically antsy being in the apartment. I’m not blaming the lack of rain on my low productivity this past month….but this is a challenge I’m currently facing.

Photo: Picture I took on my walk today.

Picture I took on a walk last week.  See Mt. Rainier, aka “the mountain” in the distance.  Even the name of the mountain (“rain-ier”) is trying to make you think it rains a lot here.  

Speaking of sunny weather, yesterday I started learning the Blind Melon song “No Rain” on the guitar. At first it was impossible for me to strum and sing the chorus at the same time. Eventually, however, I figured out that I could do it (somewhat) if I didn’t look at my fingers.

As a beginning player, I am always looking at my fingers. I’m not familiar enough with the guitar to know instinctively where the right strings and frets are. At least, that’s what I thought. I thought I wouldn’t be able to play the chords without looking at my left hand. But as it turns out, my fingers know more than I thought they did, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could let my fingers do their thing while I sang along:

“…And I start to complain that there’s no rain!”

Eva with her guitar (and flannel shirt -- I'm so Seattle!)

Eva with her guitar (and flannel shirt — I’m so Seattle!)  See a video of me playing “No Rain”.  Note that I don’t look at my fingers during the chorus.  

As I mentioned, I’ve been frustrated with my writing lately. I have a few novels I can’t figure out how to fix, and I have a few new ideas I can’t figure out how to get started on. But maybe it’s not a rainy day I need after all. Maybe sitting in front of the computer, staring at the blank screen and telling myself “write an outline now!” is like watching my fingers on the guitar and not being able to sing. I’m focusing too hard on the mechanics and not enough on the overall experience.

Maybe looking away for a while will help my creative brain do its thing. It probably knows more than I think it does. And one of the best ways to stimulate creativity is to get moving. So taking a walk in the Seattle sunshine might actually be as productive as sitting at home in my apartment.

Good thing, because it looks like it’s going to be another beautiful day.  (Shhh!  Don’t tell!)