Writer’s Cramp is the blog and site for B. Jenne’ Hall, writer, genius, and pathological optimist. She’s written her first book, is working on her second, and she’s trying to get published. Which from all accounts seems to be as approximately attainable as the gift of flight, but who doesn’t love a challenge?

Entries in about me (6)


Making a literary life

my writing tools: laptop, headphones (off frame), inspirational space, awesome new Night Owl mug from my husband full to the brim with expensive hot chocolate, and my story journal with notes for Books 1 & 2Writing is a mostly solitary pursuit. It suits me well in that way, but there’s a part of me that craves interaction with other writers, a writer’s circle, people who know and understand what it’s like to wrestle with plot and character, to beat your head against the wall during revision after revision, to lose yourself in the high of a writing groove and know how precious those times are. It’s an aspect of literary life I want for my own.

Tonight was the first step in that direction. For a birthday gift this year, my husband bought me a spot in Prompt, the 10 week writers’ workshop hosted by Write Around Portland. I’ve never participated in a writers’ workshop before so I didn’t know what to expect.

A corner room high up in Powell’s, reached through a secret door up two extra staircases no one but employees ever see. Two walls of tall mullioned windows with an invigorating view of the city. An oval table with mismatched chairs. Twelve strangers, a notebook, a pen. Terrifying. Exciting. Full of possibility.

a new journal bought just for this purpose, with the expensive pen that was a gift from my thoughtful brother-in-law and sister-in-law a few years agoWe didn’t go around the table and introduce ourselves or talk about why we were there or what we do for a living or what kind of books we read. Our facilitator, Robyn, introduced herself and talked a little about philosophy behind the workshop. On a large sheet of paper taped to one of those tall windows, she wrote the rules we decided on as a group: “Listen.” “Give constructive feedback.” “Turn off cell phones.” “Read your words with the conviction that you have a right to write.” “What’s read here, stays here.” A few more.

We did four exercises tonight. We introduced ourselves through our writing in ways that going around the table and giving superficial answers to icebreaker questions can never do. We were entertained and amused and moved and intrigued and blown away. It will be a couple more weeks before we know each other’s names without asking.

We started forming a writer’s circle.


The myth of balance

I have to agree with Kameron Hurley about the realities of finding balance as a writer:

“I spend my time like a person who knows there isn’t a whole lot of it, I suppose. I enjoy what I can, when I can, and carve out pieces for one to give to the other when necessary. Maybe there’s some cosmic overall life balance to be had, but if that’s so, it’s something only other people will be able to see when they look at the long, crazy arc of my life, long after I’m all gone to dust.”

True not just for writers, really. Anyone who spends their days juggling multiple responsibilities — most of us, I suspect — knows it’s a delicate act that depends on a combination of sacrifice, timing, organization, and no little amount of luck. It’s so delicate, in fact, that there are days when the slightest disruption can send the whole chaotic affair crashing down on our heads.

In a typical day, I spend 10 to 14 hours at my day job, which almost always includes at least a meeting or teleconference (often two, three, four, or more), receiving at least several dozen emails and replying to all but a few of them, overseeing two departments, and meeting at least two daily deadlines. None of that includes my actual work, that’s just the typical topography of my day. I fit what work I can in the valleys between the mountains and hills of that topography. I eat my lunch at my desk most of the time and my two work-from-home days are reserved for focusing on as much work as I can get done without the interruptions of being in the office. Although it doesn’t always work out that way; there are often teleconferences on those days, as well, and the email barrage can sometimes be as bad or worse. I’m fortunate to enjoy a great deal of flexibility and autonomy in my job, but its demands nonetheless make it a pretty rigid aspect of my life.

I get home between 6:30 and 9:00 unless I have an outside commitment or obligation thatcuts my day shorter. Dinner is generally dependent on how late I get home. If I can manage to get home by 7:30 or earlier, I will make some attempt at making a meal that requires some form of cooking. The later it gets, the simpler my meal plans become: a single pan entree, something I made ahead and stocked in the freezer, a sandwich, leftovers, cheese and crackers and veggies…toast. I feed the cats, eat, and put together my lunch for the next day. Since I also post on my website about my lunches, I write up the post about it during this time so that all I’ll have to do the next day is snap a pic of my lunch, insert it in the post, and publish it to the site.

After that, I try to do at least some nominal housekeeping chore. Dishes, usually, since not having a dishwasher means they pile up quickly. Some (most?) days, nothing gets done and we just have to live with a messy house until the weekend. Other days, the tottering piles of dishes are a safety hazard and must be bumped up the priority list. The housekeeping is dependent on how late it is, how tired I am, how behind it is, and how motivated I am to be doing something else. Which I generally am.

Then it’s writing time, which includes not just the actual act of writing, but revisions, noting story ideas, story research, industry research, etc. If I’m not in the mood and feel like pushing myself is going to be detrimental instead of helpful, I try to spend at least some time doing something creative or otherwise creatively rejuvenating — working in my art journal, reading for pleasure, or watching a favorite show or movie while I catch up online.

How long I do that is somewhat dependent on when the Prince is headed home. He gets home anywhere between 9 PM and 1 AM, depending on what subject his class is covering that day and whether or not he rode his bike to work. I stop what I’m doing to spend time with him and give the poor kitties some undivided attention.

Somewhere in there, I try to catch up on my various social accounts — LJ, twitter, Tumblr, DreamWidth — some number of the ridiculous number of blogs I follow, comments, and email replies. (This part of my day is important for two reasons: 1) to keep up with people I care about, as much as I can; and 2) as part of the increasing requirement that writers who wish to be published must have an established online presence in all these forms and others.) This is also the time when I try to post to any of those sites or this one if I have something to post about. These things may be bumped up the priority list if I’ve neglected them for a few days or they may take a backseat when I just can’t fit everything in and need to drop something from my task list.

This is also when I get ready for the next day to minimize how much time it takes to get ready in the morning (and thus, allowing me to sleep later): laying out my clothes, taking a bath (since we don’t have a shower), packing my work bag, preparing lists for any errands I need to run during lunch or on the way home. And Eru bless the miracle of online shopping, automatic bill pays, and grocery delivery because this is the only time of our day that we can fit any of these tasks in.

Oh, and if I need to do any work for my website clients (about four to seven evenings every month), then pretty much everything except the basic functions are put on hold until that’s done.

The Prince works a similarly long day (or longer!) on a schedule shifted from mine, which means that we only see each other for a few hours (at most) in the evening, and very briefly in the morning before I leave for work. I stay up late so we can maximize our time together on weekdays, which means going to bed between 1:30 AM and 2 AM and getting up at 7 AM. If I’ve really hit a writing groove, the Prince goes to bed without me and I stay up until I can’t keep my eyes open so I don’t waste that opportunity to make progress on the story.

Most people are doing a similar juggling act, whether it’s trying to incorporate a similar artistic pursuit into their daily life or something equally demanding like raising kids or starting a new business. Sometimes, we benefit from the help and support of people who love us*, but one way or another, we find a way to fit in the things that are most important. That includes being willing to redefine “most important” every day, and living with the fact it will only rarely all be in balance. Rarely, if ever.


*I am incredibly fortunate in this department. The Prince does as much or more than I do to keep the household functioning and still manages to fit in the occasional thoughtful things that can make all the difference on a challenging day. Like the morning I’m running late for work, remember just as I’m starting the car that the needle was well past ‘E’ when I coasted to a stop the night before, and realize that he somehow found time to fill the gas tank. I have no interest in diamonds — things like this are a billion times more priceless.


Living creatively

I’m bursting with creativity lately. The prospect of my creative room has me thrumming like a live wire, waiting impatiently at the starting line to start the race. A sprint or a marathon, which will it be? Will I be in a frenzy of creation that flares like a supernova, then collapses inward to a black hole? A secret fear, but I don’t think it’s going to happen like that. I think this burn has only just begun.

As the creative room takes shape — or the preparation for it, anyway — the creative life I’ve long dreamed of is taking shape, too. Not fully, as I’ve always dreamed of being able to quit my job to work on writing and art full-time, and that’s just not going to happen any time soon, unfortunately. I work a lot, so my creative endeavors have to be squeezed into the slivers of time left over, and those slivers, they are often miniscule. (But this is not the time to be unappreciative of a job that pays my bills and makes those wonderful extras like a creative room possible. I’ll juggle and focus on the fact that I at least have this much available to me.)

Writing is going to occupy most of those miniscule slivers, but I’ve got years of backlogged art jammed up inside that are going to need a release, too, and perhaps in the beginning, they’ll be the bigger part of that river flowing outward until the pressure is released. But it’s an embarrassment of riches, a veritable downpour of expression through pen and brush, and this, this, is what I want my life to be. There’s more still to come, but it’s taking shape, becoming something I recognize from my long-held dreams.


Making space

If you’ve been following my adventures on my regular blog, you know that my husband and I are planning to turn our guest room into a creative room in a few weeks, and that I’ve been as giddy as an untrained puppy about it. There’s a lot wrapped up in this room for me beyond the excitement of getting to do another project — and one that’s almost completely decorating, with little of that boring “preparation” nonsense — that is complicated and too personal to go into here. But suffice to say, my wheels have been spinning for a month or so since I decided I wanted to do this project. Or perhaps more correctly, the poor little hamsters that run my wheels have been spinning their poor little hamster hearts out.

I’ve been on a creative high for weeks now but haven’t written much, nor even edited much since my big push before and immediately after my pitch critique. Previously, that would have sent me into a negative feedback loop of anxiety, frustration, desperation, and shame; when I’m “normal”, I cannot function if I go for more than a few days without writing, so to not be writing for lengths of time makes me a basketcase.

Unfortunately, this last couple of years have been a series of long stretches of not-writing, and that hasn’t been a good thing. I’ve mentioned it before so I won’t go into it again here, but suffice to say, it’s been a real struggle to deal with not writing as a regular state of affairs for myself. And to secretly fear that it was going away. A writer’s worst fear.

But no, I can feel it there, waiting. I can feel that story percolating inside me like it always has, evolving and coalescing. Plot points, character developments, scenes and narratives and setting possibilities, oh my!

So when this sudden urge to do the creative room struck, I decided to let myself take this little intermission from that familiar writing flow that I’d been feeling during the editing/pitch process. To trust that it would still be there, waiting for me. Trust my instincts, trust that taking the time out to concentrate on the creative room, to enjoy all the excitement I get from thinking about it and planning it and making my vision a reality.

I’m happy to report that letting myself take this detour was the right thing. I’m so excited to get it done I can hardly contain myself! And in the meantime, I’ve been focusing on my other creative pursuits, namely collaging and art journaling. All that energy of waiting to start the creative room needed an outlet, and although it’ll be so much easier and more fun to collage and art journal in my creative room, I’m not holding off doing either of them until then, something my Practical Self probably would have. After all, not having a dedicated space for such activities didn’t stop me from doing them before I decided to do this makeover, so why should it stop me now? That’s my Creative Self giving my Practical Self the finger.

Soon, the creative room will be ready for me to create all the live long day (and night, knowing me). I’ll have a lovely space to write in, with a different view than I have now and a door I can shut while I’m tussling with a particularly thorny plot issue. (Or, more likely, getting myself out of a plot corner.) That same space can be used for playing with paints and making messes with glitter and scribbling angry screeds in red crayon across a crudely painted background. There’ll be space for my husband to create, too, and for us to spend entire Saturdays being arty together while we listen to our usual NPR Saturday schedule. Space, too, for my dear friends to do the same, and for us to make crazy art and laugh and exclaim about each others’ talents and become closer than ever.

I’m excited for what’s ahead once this room is done, and for the possibilities it holds for me and my writing. I’m not one to believe that you need everything just so before you can start writing — I wrote my first book in all kinds of places, and in all kinds of circumstances, whether they were conducive to writing or not — but it feels luxurious to have a space for it. It feels like a tremendous privilege, and one that I earned.


Progress, word count, and a sign that I may have a brain tumor

An extended weekend coast getaway and I have made some middling progress on Book 2. Gray skies and sea and a cozy cabin will do that to a girl, especially a writerly sort of girl, which I am. God bless the Oregon coast and all its inspirational glory.

Word count for today: 3,274

The day isn’t over yet — I expect I’ll be adding more tonight, after I’ve had a bit of supper — and I got a late start. But as word counts go, it’s pretty sad, considering I regularly bust out 10,000 words or more at a go when I’m more on my game. Unfortunately, I haven’t been on my game in quite some time, a state I don’t quite know what to do with, frankly, and I’m grateful at this point for any word count at all. I may in fact have to start regular word count posts as a means to keep the momentum, at least until I get this train back on track.

And speaking of trains, and tracks jumped thereof…three separate times today, I wrote “thrown” when I meant “throne”, and was in fact thinking “throne”. A simple mistake, you might think, but you would be wrong.

I’ve never had a problem with homonyms, homophones, or homographs, other than the occasional mistake caused by a momentary brain lapse. I have no trouble differentiating the correct usage of there/they’re/their, its/it’s, red/read/read/reed, nor even words that are not technically homonyms/phones/graphs, such as accept/except or insure/ensure. And in fact I have never really had a problem with these vagaries of our delightful language, though I certainly understand the confusion they cause others.

Never, that is, until recently. In the last few years, I’ve noticed an alarming problem that has me a bit freaked out. Have I suddenly begun confusing there/they’re/their, the bane of most English users? Do I now struggle with whether it’s it’s or its? Am I now conflicted about whether the word I want is accept or except? No, no, and no. Again, except for the occasional brain lapse, these give me no trouble.

But recently, I have found myself typing words that are different than the ones in my head, homophones that I’ve never before struggled with and in many cases, didn’t even think about as being homphones until I found myself typing the wrong word all of a sudden. Like today’s repeated use of “thrown” when I meant “throne”. It wouldn’t have been a homophone pair I ever would’ve thought of if I were listing them, and yet my brain made the connection and took it upon itself to order my fingers to make the substition. Even as I was typing the word, I was thinking “throne”, yet I typed “thrown”. And even after I was aware of it, I kept doing it.

It happens in blog posts, emails, texting, book writing…I’m doing it frequently, discovering homophones that never before occurred to me. It wasn’t that I didn’t recognize before that the word I’d intended had a homophone equivalent, but simply that they were never connected together for me before unless I was specifically trying to think of homophones. We’re not talking about common, everyday mix-ups here. And it’s happened to me so often now that I’ve lost track of all the different pairs that’ve popped up, and I’m constantly discovering new ones (thrown/throne is my new one today).

Other homophone mix-ups I’ve made since this whole problem began:  roil/royal, bawled/bald, sordid/sorted, brood/brewed, wrapped/rapt, nose/knows (this one happens to me often now), righting/writing(!), chews/choose, sewn/sown, rigger/rigor, praise/preys, coulee/coolly, wheeled/wield. Those are just the ones I can remember at this moment, far from a complete list.

It’s got me so freaked out that the day that I substituted “eyed” for “I’d”, I googled demon possession and brain tumor pathology. Because seriously! How is this not a sign of something being majorly frakked in my noggin?? My brain is melting together, you guys! The orderliness of my previously awesome cerebral cortex is breaking down into chaos!

I have an alternative theory that my synethesia is spreading…that in addition to my spatial-sequence synesthesia*, where my brain has made connections between the flow of time and the three-dimensional world, my brain is now forming connections between words that have similarities. This would be a far cooler explanation than a brain tumor, and it’s the only reason I haven’t fled to the nearest neurologist’s office for every expensive brain scan available.

Or it could just be that I’m getting old and losing a bit of my mental faculties. But I think I’ll stick with the synesthesia theory.


*(For those new to the show, yes, I have spatial-sequence synesthesia, which that link up there explains very succintly:  “In spatial-sequence, or number form synesthesia, numbers, months of the year, and/or days of the week elicit precise locations in space (for example, 1980 may be “farther away” than 1990), or may have a (three-dimensional) view of a year as a map (clockwise or counterclockwise).” My synethesia is strongest in relation to time, but I experience it with all number forms (hence the number form link). And that is the cool fact about me for today.)


The Inevitable Inaugural Post

And so anyway. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. But it was always a dream-but-not-really sort of thing. Something I just did, not something I tried to make a go of. A writer, as in someone who writes decently enough, and hears from people — friends, family, coworkers — “you’re really good at this, you should be a writer”, and laughs at the sheer implausibility of such a thing. Not a Writer, as in someone who actually, you know, does it for a living. Or tries to.

It’s that “tries to” part that’s always been the thing. I’m not the starving artist type. Don’t have the constitution for it. As much as I’d love to call myself an artist, the sort who agonizes over every single word and sells their record collection to buy lovely handmade journals in which to write The Great American Novel, and maybe suffers from some terribly dramatic disease like turbuculosis, I am not that person. I’m far too bourgeois. I like the stability of a regular paycheck, the occassional weekend at the coast, and small luxuries like music and books and movies. Oh, and I like to eat. Not like a lot or anything, but you know, the standard three squares a day is kind of nice, and I’m used to it, and I’m just weak like that. Plus, I just really don’t go in for all that melodrama and suicidal tendency stuff. It’s too much work.

In other words: Sylvia Plath I am not.

Where were we? Oh right, writing versus Writing.

Well anyway, I was fairly content with my lowercase-writing way of doing things. I wrote short stories when the mood grabbed me, and silly little one-offs I call Snippets, the occassional email rant, blog/journal posts on all sorts of topics, and scribbled down story ideas in a journal I carried with me. I even started writing a book, a project that I’d been knocking around in my head for awhile. So it went, until about three years ago.

It was that damn book, you see. The thing simply would not die. Not even with a level of neglect that had it been a child or a dog, would’ve seen me carted off by the relevant authorities. I’ll talk more about this period, and the evolution of that story, in coming posts, but the point here is that the book forced itself to the forefront and demanded my full attention. And I finally just gave in.

Fast forward to earlier this year when, after two and a half years, I finally finished it. It was one of the single greatest things I’ve ever done. I’m still rather gobsmacked that I did it, to be honest. But what’s funny is that in the course of writing it, not only did I learn a whole lot about the story itself, and my own skills, but I realized something I didn’t know:

I really, really want to do this for a living.

Or try to. And I guess it took me fighting with this story every day like a deranged Mexican wrestler to overcome my aversion to the uncertainties of trying to build a writing career. To realize I wanted a writing career enough to fight for it, and make the sacrifices. I suppose that’s like anything else — we love most fiercely that which we have to fight the hardest for.

So the book’s done, and I’ve revised the hell out of it in the 8 months since, and I’m about to embark on the next phase: getting published. We’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, I figured I ought to plant my little flag in the virtual ground as a Writer. It’s highly likely that I won’t ever be published, and this space will never be viewed by more than my family and friends and the angry neighbor* down the street who thinks I stole his ugly-ass flamingoes. ::waves at angry neighbor:: And you know what? That’s okay. I’m willing to take the chance.

Because nobody ever became a Writer without taking the chance.

*(said neighbor may possibly be a figment of my imagination)