Writing Against Ennui

cat-393294_1280

 

Ever have those days where you don’t feel like doing that creative thing that you love? What happens when those days stretch into weeks? I’ve joked about having ennui, but they were only half-jokes.

Okay. Scratch that. They weren’t jokes at all.

I’ve given myself some sort of block. I just think about drawing, or writing, or binding a book, and I heave a cartoonish sigh and stop myself before I ever start. But this doesn’t need to be happening right now.

I have the next book in my series to write. I have two other books that need to be revised. But guess what? I don’t feel like writing. I haven’t for days. Weeks. I thought that feeling would go away. It hasn’t.

 

 

I started reading more, hoping to get inspired. I read “The Secret Place” by Tana French, “Minnow” by James McTeer. I started watching Lost again because I liked it the first time around and missed some key details, and hell, I just like those characters an awful lot. (They’re like old friends, and their struggle is worse than mine.) I’ve cleaned the house, baked banana bread, and applied to about a million new jobs. I’ve done just about everything EXCEPT write. (Excluding cover letters, that is. I’ve written a ridiculous number of cover letters).

These funks of mine are pretty cyclical. I know they’re coming, I just don’t know exactly when. So the question is, how can you prepare for this kind of thing and keep on doing what you do without this annoying interruption? There’s a voice in my head that’s yelling, “Just buck up. Pull it together and start stringing words together.”

My writing friend came for a visit today and made a list of bookish things she needs to do. She instructed me to do the same while she took a phone call. So I made the list, and it looks like this:

  1. write Bayou book #3
  2. revise thesis novel you never revised that last time
  3. finish potential YA novel with the bad ending
  4. reprint of ABC book

It’s a vague list. I know this. But here’s the thing: I really want to cross something off that list. So now I can choose one (perhaps the one that requires the least amount of work, because I’m feeling THAT lazy right now) and get started. This will create momentum, I’m sure of it, and then that momentum might carry on to the next project on the list.

When I told my friend Katie about this feeling, she said, “Omygod, did you not read my last post? I was having THE SAME THING.”

It’s true. She just wrote about this very ennui:

I would say, “I’m such a baby,” but another important thing I’m learning is compassion, which starts at home. 

Compassion, she says. And she’s right. Why are we so hard on ourselves? Sometimes I think we creative people are the worst: we are absolutely brutish to ourselves, and we hold ourselves to impossible standards. We give ourselves deadlines that anyone else would balk at.

Katie came around and cut herself some slack, and when I read her post today, I realized that I’ve been extremely hard on myself too. Part of my job is being friendly and helpful to every person that walks in the door—and giving them the benefit of the doubt when they make seemingly bad decisions. But I realized I haven’t been doing that for myself. (My subconscious has been trying to tell me, what with its desire for castaways and banana bread, but I was only half listening.)

So here I am, fully listening, giving myself a break. I will give myself tonight to finish wallowing. I will open a file, start reading an old manuscript, and make plans while Katie types furiously across the room. Tomorrow I’ll have coffee and start revising that manuscript, and create some new momentum. I’ll cut myself some slack and let myself start slow, and stop worrying about the size of these books and the vast number of pages left to write. I’ll stop beating myself up because I haven’t written fast enough or good enough. I’ll take this one sentence at a time.

 

Want more writing tips? Check out my monthly column on Underground Book Reviews

First image courtesy of pixabay.com. Second is Henri, Le Chat Noir, courtesy of Youtube. 

The Animals are Back, and They’re Book-Festival Bound

I’m delighted to be presenting at the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival in a couple of weeks. Festivals are one of my favorite bookish things because it means I get to meet readers—and let’s face it, in today’s online-driven world, that doesn’t happen all that often.

 

On September 9th and 10th, I’ll be presenting on an illustrators’ panel with two other artists, Ellie Kirby and Kevin Watson. This invitation took me a little by surprise, because lately I’ve been writing novels. Sure, I make artist books, but that’s a little out of place at a festival like this, right? It took me a while to connect my invitation with a book from way back in the vault. My children’s book, What Do Animals Do on the Weekend?, was published what feels like a lifetime ago (but really just irhinosn 2002). That book is out of print now, but you can still find it online through secondary sellers. (If you’re coming to the festival, it’s likely BYO-copy, but believe me, I’ll be thrilled to sign it for you! There were only 5,000 copies printed.)

 

I’ve been thinking for a while about doing a second printing of What Do Animals Do myself, and this festival has made me move it closer to the top of my to-do list. I have all of my original illustrations, and the perfectionist in me kind of always wished I’d used the original water-colored block prints instead of digitizing them for production. Now that creating a print-on-demand book has become so easy, it makes sense to do a second printing. (PLUS, I get to appease the perfectionist.)

 

In this panel I’m part of, I’ll be talking about how I create images through the process of block printing and how those kinds of images can be reproduced digitally. Don’t get me wrong: I love making artist books because every part of them is handmade: I’m carving wood blocks, printing by hand, coloring by hand, sewing books together, binding the traditional way, sometimes even making my own paper. But it takes a lot of time and materials to make books that way, and that means they aren’t priced like paperbacks. Artist books are expensive, and rightfully so. But if I want to make my books available to more readers, and make them more generally affordable, then I have to find a way to produce them in a less expensive way. As an experiment, I took two of my most popular artist books and redesigned them so I could print high-quality versions of them from my home printer. I chose a nice paper to print with, bound the books myself, and letterpress-printed the covers so they still had a couple of handmade elements. I Want a Crayfish’s Heart and Migration: A Field Guide to Love that Was and Might Have Been still exist as collectible artist books, but you can also get copies for less than $15 that are good quality and still have a handmade feel. (Both are available through this site.)

 

bobcats

For now, I still create artist books because I am in love with the processes that go into making them by hand. But my love for books also means I’m creating in other formats that lend themselves to wider readership and better accessibility. In a field that is constantly changing, that means I’m always adapting my processes to make my books available to those who want them. And that means it’s time to stop procrastinating and redesign this ABC book so it comes alive in a second printing.

 

Fun Fact: Originally, What Do Animals Do on the Weekend? was created as an artist book. It was made from linoleum block prints, printed on luscious Rives BFK paper, hand-tinted with watercolor and printed with metal and wood type. I hand-bound those books too, sewing them in the traditional way. A few of those collectible copies are still available, and I still have some original, hand-colored block prints like the ones pictured in this post. They’re all in my Etsy shop, going to good homes, specially priced for a summer sale. For inquiries about purchasing multiple prints, or if you need one you don’t see pictured, email me. As of right now, I still have multiples of all 26.

Letter #6: On Not Writing

time-is-money-1339781_1920

 

Note to readers: This post is part of a series of letters between me and my friend and author Katie Rose Guest Pryal. I publish our letters here on my blog, and she also publishes our letters on her blog. You can read all of our letters here. Check out Chasing Chaos, Katie’s newest book in the Hollywood Lights series. (Photo courtesy of pixabay.com.)

 

Dear Katie:

I was always under the impression you wrote every day, and I was always astounded, wondering how on earth you found time to do so with all the other balls you juggle. I’ve tried and failed at being one of those uber-dedicated writers who rolls out of bed at the crack of dawn in order to write before work.

Nope.

I’m barely functional before 9 AM as it is. Forget trying to string words together in an elegant way. Forget writing snappy dialogue and creating a surprising yet believable plot arc. Most mornings I catch myself putting my cell phone in the fridge and attempting to put my coffee into my purse. Complex thoughts are not happening and nothing I say should be recorded in digital files or otherwise.

And writing when I get home from work? Nope. I wish I had that boundless energy, but after working all day at an exhausting job where I have to pretend to be an extrovert, I am way too tired to write before bed. By the end of my work day, my brain is so fried that I forget basic human tasks like, Put your pants on before you go outside. Last night after watching an episode of Mr. Robot to unwind, the fella sat up straighter, illuminated by epiphany, and tried to explain some key element in the plot twist we’d been stumbling over. I placed my hand on his arm and said, “You’re going to have to explainall of this to me again tomorrow,” because I seriously couldn’t understand any of the words coming out of his mouth. (Yes, I know the plot is quite convoluted anyway, but you and I read and write books that have complex plots. This is not something we are baffled by. Words are not something we have a shortage of.)

Sometimes I write on weekends, when the laundry and cooking and cleaning doesn’t take over. So I know what you’re asking: When the hell do you write?

Having a deadline helps. Hey, this novel needs to be finished by Dec 31. Ready, set, GO. When that happens, I start carving out time before and after work. (Having a seasonal job helps too, leaving me unemployed for a least a couple of months that I can then devote to writinga boo because HEY I have to be doing SOMETHING so it might as well be what I LOVE. Right? Honestly, I’ve been putting off this third book. I don’t really know how to start it. But after your last visit, I know I have to. That’s why it’s great when we set aside some time to visit each other, on our opposite ends of the state. That’s why it’s so important to have a writing partner, and that’s why I’m so glad we collided at that retreat all those years ago. Now that we’re starting this new adventure, I have a renewed sense of urgency to get back to the writingdesk. It’s like exercising—I miss it when I’m not doing it, and I feel better when I’m doing it, so why do I let myself fall off the wagon and blame it on all the things I mentioned above?

But enough whining. We have books to start and books to finish. We have lots of books in us, but we have other things in our lives besides novels. We’re still finding the balancing point, and that’s okay. I didn’t get a copy of the Life instruction manual, and I don’t think you did either. So far, we’re doing all right writing it for ourselves.

Onward,

Lauren

 

 

How to not faint at your author reading

katie-and-lauren-reading

 

This is the buddy system in action. The great thing about having novelist friends is that you can support each other. Sometimes that means reading manuscripts and having late night DEFCON 1 phone calls. Sometimes is means tag teaming for readings.

 

I love a good two-for-one deal—especially as a reader. I’ve discovered some great authors simply because they were reading alongside another more familiar author who had drawn me out to the reading. As a writer, it’s less stressful (and more fun) to have a partner in crime to read with you. If you’re like me, and still get a little nervous reading in front of a group of people, it helps to have a friend at your shoulder. True story: the first time I read in front of a crowd, I was certain I was having a heart attack. Sometimes I still get that feeling, which is why I like to have a reading partner: she can provide moral support and pick me up off the floor if the worst scenario happens. (So far it hasn’t, but I like to be prepared.)

 

Katie Rose Guest Pryal, author of the Entanglement series, invited me to read with her last week in Greensboro, NC at the Friendly’s center Barnes and Noble, where I’d read 14 years ago when my children’s book was published. We had so many folks there that we almost ran out of chairs. The crowd was friendly and warm, asking great questions about our writing practices, our inspiration, and what drives us as novelists. Talking with them about our writing strategies made me eager to start on the next book I’ve been planning, and I felt the inner nudge to hurry up and get started.

 

In a time when so many books are purchased online, and when so much chatter about books happens via social media, it was refreshing to see such an enthusiastic and curious crowd in the bookstore. Seeing faces instead of usernames is serious positive reinforcement for someone who holes up all alone crafting stories. I confess I’ve been slack about scheduling readings, but now I’m planning more for the fall, when the next book in my Bayou series is released. Talking with readers is something that’s always been fun for me, and something I’ve been missing.

 

Katie and I will be reading again together Tuesday, August 9 at 6:30 at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, NC. We’d love to see you there. Bring your friends! Katie will be reading from her second novel, Chasing Chaos, and I’ll be reading from my debut novel Bayou My Love. We’ll have a Q & A and a signing after.

 

 

Special thanks to Barnes and Noble at the Friendly center for hosting us. And thank you to our Greensboro readers, who gave us such a warm welcome! I look forward to seeing you all again soon!