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The Books that Make the Girl

I was thinking today about the books that Ellie Baum, one of the three main characters in The Girl with the Red Balloon, would like these days. In my head, Ellie’s a contemporary loving girl. In my head, she’s a hopeless romantic, drawn to stories with HEAs, ones that don’t keep her up at night thinking about the end of the world, and probably has trouble suspending her disbelief in fantasy stories (see also: chapter 4 of The Girl with the Red Balloon, lol).

Ellie Baum's Favorite Books-.png

So I imagine before Ellie went to Berlin, the books on her bedside stand–neatly organized, no dog-eared pages please, use a bookmark-were the following:

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins — I bet this is a well-worn favorite of Ellie’s. I bet it’s the book she picks up and reads after she’s had a hard day.

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli — Ellie probably loved Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda so I’m pretty sure she was first in line to read the follow-up with anxiety-ridden Jewish girl Molly. Ellie probably could have related a lot to this book.

Open Road Summer by Emery Lord — Ellie probably thought to herself that she’d never date a guy like Matt. Whoops. No one tell her what’s coming 😉 I feel like she and Amanda, her BFF from home, probably read this one together and fangirled out hardcore.

Up to this Pointe by Jennifer Longo — so Ellie’s not a dancer but I feel like she’d really be attracted to Harper, who thinks she knows where she’s going in life, and be reassured by Harper’s need to know what’s coming next.

Frannie and Tru by Karen Hattrup — I think Ellie’s intensely curious about life, and she probably follows characters who are equally curious. She’s also a follower, and she’s felt guilty about that, until she learns to stand on her own feet. She and Frannie have a lot more in common than she thinks.

Happy reading!

It Would Have Been Enough

Last night, I sat at a seder with old friends and new friends: my rabbi, his wife, their son; a family from the congregation including their two daughters, one of whom has been in my creative writing sessions this school year; an opera singer and her husband, she a Sephardic Jew and he a self-described Lutheran boy from Kansas City; and another congregant member. We used cards (The Kitchen Haggadah Game) to go through the seder–it was a little disorganized, but the type of chaos that could work–and throughout it, there were questions posed, including a few that have stuck with me.

What is spiritual slavery?

What is the promised land to me? Does it exist? Is it a physical place or a spiritual place? Is it something I can work to achieve or is it out of our control?

Were the Israelites emotionally ready to leave Egypt? How does emotional readiness change the story? Does emotional readiness matter? Who controls emotional readiness?

The story of Passover, which is the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and toward Canaan, the land that would become Israel, became an accidental frame story in parts of Benno’s storyline in The Girl with the Red Balloon and I’ve spent the three years since I wrote that part wrestling with Pesach in new ways. Previously I’d come to Pesach as a free person, thinking about freedom and liberty and justice from the point of, what can I do now for people who are not free? Which is a really important piece of the puzzle.

But I hadn’t thought of what it would have been like to celebrate Passover as a not-free person. As someone in slavery. As someone in prison. As someone who was captured or held against their will. As someone in a concentration camp. As someone in a place where they couldn’t freely practice their religion.

As our card game would have said, #privilege.

I pushed at some of these questions in TGWTRB. Benno’s reaction to Dayenu and his feelings about Israel touch on the Promised Land idea. How Benno leaves the camp, and who he leaves behind and his feelings about that touch on the idea of emotional readiness, and who steers that. And there’s a character in Benno’s storyline who is either Moses or Elijah, and each time I read it, I change my mind about which they are. And of course, there are literal exoduses in this book. There’s resistance in this book. All types of it. And the women in this book are the hearts of it, just as the women of the Exodus story are the hearts of it.

But I’ve been thinking about how I would tell that story now, writing it in 2017 instead of 2014. Under the political circumstances in which we live. I think it’d be much more overtly political. I think I’d probably expand Benno’s story to be an equal storyline in the book. I think I’d have thought more heavily on these themes, sank into them a little more.

I was worried in 2014 when I wrote Benno’s storyline that it was too Jewish. That non-Jewish readers wouldn’t want to read something this Jewish. And to be honest, I’m still worried about that. I think the book’s highly accessible for non-Jewish readers, but I think there’s a very Jewish angle to it and lens through which to read it. I think I would have been less afraid of that lens if I was writing it now. Less afraid, because I am more defiant now than I was three years ago. The world’s made me so.

I want room for those stories. The ones that are coming up right now about what it’s like to be afraid to practice faith but finding strength through stories and tradition. I want those stories, the ones where resistance through faith is a way of creating space, of finding a way out of spiritual slavery, of creating emotional readiness, of finding a promised land.

I want those stories: the Jewish ones, the Muslim ones, the Hindu ones, the Native American ones, the First Nations ones.

We need stories of those faiths, by people of those faiths, more than ever.

I drafted this post before White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s comments today from the White House Press Room where he denied Hitler gassing his own people, and in his subsequent clarifications and retractions, insinuated that Hitler hadn’t gassed innocent people. This language is that of Holocaust denial, and I’m horrified, though not shocked, at this language from this White House. That this was done while the White House continues to use the tragedy of Syrian victims of a chemical weapons attack as a smoke screen to avoid political pressure on Russia is even more abhorrent. I urge readers to call their representatives and ask for diplomatic action on Syria, and to publicly condemn Sean Spicer’s lies about Hitler. My desire for more stories of faith by persecuted faiths in the West, like Judaism and Islam, is stronger than ever. 

 

 

Deep Work by Cal Newport and Its Uses for Fiction Writers

Last night I finished Deep Work by Cal Newport (link opens to Goodreads in a new window).

For the most part, I found it useful, interesting, and applicable to my own life, especially as a writer though I’ll be bringing some of the practices to my dayjob too. I’ve outlined all of those below, and if you have any questions, let me know!

But before we begin, in full disclosure, Newport has weaknesses that piled up on each other until they drove me screaming to screenshots on Instagram and whiny status updates on Goodreads. I know others commented on those posts that they’d put down the book for the same reason so I’m going to share those first, but with the additional note that I do still think this book is worth reading, despite these irritating moments.

So before we go on, know that Newport mentions one woman other than his wife in this entire book. Almost all of his ‘deep work’ examples, historically and currently, are men. Apparently women don’t do deep work? Or Newport knows no women.

I think the last is more likely because you’ll find that Newport also has a different approach to friendships and relationships than many of my friends do, and than I do. He shuns digital communications and repeatedly talks about how your friends on the internet can’t be that good friends because you only talk to them on the internet. I found this frustratingly out-of-pace with the real world. I can ignore his “I’m too enlightened for Twitter” attitude, which I’ll call Franzenlite, but his dismissal of online-based relationships was irritating to me.

There’s also a level of classism that happens here, and I wish there’d been at least one chapter that addressed balancing multiple jobs–because his advice that you stop work at 5:30 doesn’t work for those of us who dayjob, and then go home and do a different job, like authoring.

So! Know all of that going in. Again, I think the book is useful beyond that, but it was impossible to overlook the weaknesses and it’d be rude not to mention them.

Let’s talk about the parts of the book that I think are applicable to fiction writers (including women and nonbinary folk, because we can do deep work too, Dr. Newport).

Busyness versus Productivity

You know I love talking about productivity. I love productivity tips, I love bullet journaling as it relates to productivity, I love thinking about ways to be more efficient with my time. And yet, for all my productivity, I frequently feel like I’m spinning my wheels. Getting nowhere and expending a lot of energy. Newport calls this “busyness as proxy for productivity.” Or, essentially, we don’t know how to show productivity externally (how many of our jobs are measured, be it sales at a dayjob or word count), so we do lots of little, shallow tasks that are highly visible and yet don’t really push us, or our work, forward.

Newport says:

Knowledge work is not an assembly line, and extracting value from information is an activity that’s often at odds with busyness, not supported by it. Deep Work

This was an important reminder that even on the days where I fill out author interviews and reply to email and fight with my website code and write postcards for promotion, that’s busyness. It’s important, and I have to do because I can’t afford to pay someone else to do it, but it’s taking valuable time away from the real work. The deep work of writing and thinking and building stories.

Later in the book, Newport talks about chunking up your time. I don’t do that for reasons I explained in a previous post on productivity because it triggers my OCD in ways that are literally counterproductive. But on a theoretical, less practical and applicable level, I’ve started to take those shallow work/busy tasks and chunk them up.

I’m still trying to train myself away answering emails right away–that’s another OCD thing (I stopped halfway through this sentence to delete an email from my inbox so there’d still be no unread emails)–but I am trying to do things like promotion work, website work, newsletter work, blog work all at once in a single chunk instead of whenever I want to procrastinate. Then it feels productive, but it allows me the bigger chunks of time (which I need, and Newport says are supported by science) to do my deep work on stories.

Take Away: Check in with yourself: am I being busy, because being busy looks awesome on social media or to my boss, or am I getting productive work done? Is there a way I can put my busy shallow work together in chunks so it interrupts my deep work less often?

 

Be Driven by Depth, Not Shallowness

Newport talks about the fact that neurologically, we’re less happy when our day is structured around shallow work. I know that’s true for me. It’s nice to clear my inbox, but if all I did that day is approve things that came into my inbox, then I don’t feel like I got anything done at the end of the day, even if a lot of things are checked off my checklist.

Regardless of the work, Newport argues that neurochemistry and psychology tell us “to build your working life around the experience of flow produced by deep work is a proven path to deep satisfaction.”

Is this possible in all jobs? No. I’ve been a waitress. There was no deep work for me to enjoy there to find deep satisfaction in my job. The job was what it was. I loved being a nanny, but I don’t know that there’s deep work to be found there, nor do I think you can really structure things the way Newport suggests, because babies don’t always stick to your schedule.

But it is possible when looking at life as an author. Building your life as an author (or writer, whichever term you’re more comfortable with) should be built around the telling and writing of stories. Your deep work is your writing. Nothing else. Structure your work, and your writing time around that, rather than your shallow work (like marketing, answering emails, promotion, checking your Goodreads reviews–I see you, get off of there–etc) around your deep work.

I realized while reading this book that I tend to view my days with book ends. My 9-5 job and my required 8-9 hours of sleep each day are mentally blocked out with book ends. My work exists between those two times. And once I started looking at my days like that, that’s when I was able to see where and when I had to do deep work, and chunking out my time for shallow work in other places.

Take Away: Look at your days and how you structure them. Are you structuring your writing time around writing, or around other ‘author duties’ like promotion, Twitter, marketing, blog updates, etc? How would you like that time to be structured?

 

Willpower is Finite. I know. That’s not the best news you’ve had this week.

It turns out that willpower is a finite resource and we spend all day fighting the desire to work shallowly because a) it’s easier and b) our brains have become addicted to it in the last fifteen years or so.

I know. It’s really not the best news. I like to think I can conjure willpower up from anywhere but that’s also not possible, it turns out. Who knew? At least I have a new answer to that question, “What would your superpower be?” “Bottomless willpower.” I mean! IMAGINE WHAT YOU COULD DO.

I know this fact feels true to me because I used to have a great memory. And for lots of reasons, my memory has grown crappy. And my attention is poor. But I know that just like Newport says in this part of the book, it’s hard for me to sit still and be bored these days. Especially with my phone in reach and with service. I want to flip through it. It’ll take me two tries to write a text message because halfway through it, I find myself checking Instagram, and my email account, and Neko Atsume because what if Tubbs was there, eating all the food, right then?

In Newport’s words,

…the use of a distracting service does not, by itself, reduce your brain’s ability to focus. It’s instead the constant switching from low-stimuli/high-value activities to high-stimuli/low-value activities, at the slightest hint of boredom or cognitive challenge, that teaches your mind to never tolerate an absence of novelty. Deep Work

This is really really true. As soon as I get stuck, I want to check Facebook. Or Twitter. When I’m bored, or waiting in line, or switching tasks, I pick up my phone to check it. It’s a problem, and one that I’m definitely going to be more conscious of. Seeing the research and the science was super helpful to me.

I’m still working on the phone, but I have figured out ways to fight this while writing on my computer.

As I’ve mentioned about a million times on this blog before, I use an app called SelfControl to block social media while I write. (I use Forest on my phone!) I used to block in 30 minute to 1 hour blocks. Now I block it for 5-8 hour blocks. Last Friday when I was hitting my deadline, I blocked it for 12 hours. And now, at night, I block it for more than the hours I’ll work to resist the temptation to open Twitter after I’m done work and futz around on there instead of sleeping. So if I sit down to work at 7pm, I turn on my blocker for 6 or 7 hours, instead of the three I would previously do.

I used to turn on my blocker, and almost immediately open a browser and try to open Facebook or Twitter without even thinking about it. It was that engrained in my mind and habits. But now, I turn on my blocker and I almost never type facebook or Twitter into my URL bar. It took about a year of consciously using SelfControl every single time I sat down to write, but now a year into it, I turn on SelfControl and I write. Every time.

In Newport’s words,

The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration. Deep Work

In plain speak, using tools, like Freedom or SelfControl or Forest to block your usual productivity drains (Facebook, Twitter, NY Times, Instagram, Pinterest, etc) allows you to preserve your finite willpower reserves because the blocker does the work for you.

Here’s another Newport quote, one I’ll probably put on my inspiration bulletin board over my desk: “Distraction remains a destroyer of depth.”

Find tools to help you find focus and fight distraction without depleting your willpower. You’ll need that for the rest of life and surviving this presidency.

Take Away: Evaluate your time and identify your time-sucks. Find a tool to help you fight the time sucks. If your time sucks are your children, do not fight them. That’s frowned upon. But talk to your spouse about dedicated work time where they take over parenting so you can get work done, or about trying to find childcare a few hours a week to maximize your focus.

 

Be Disciplined

Newport talks about 4 disciplines:

  1. “Focus on the Wildly Important.” As in, make a top of mind or priority list, and make sure that you’re not putting 50% of your effort into an interview and only 10% of your effort into your book. Newport, like every other productivity person, suggests writing down your important goals. I make yearly and monthly lists in my bullet journal that I find are helpful. Some people find it helpful not only to write down the goals, but to list specific tasks to accomplish those goals.
  2. “Act on Lead Measures” This is where Newport started to get a little too business wonky for me. He’s talking about measuring success, and I’m wary of this with writers because so so  much of our industry is out of our hands. But he talks about lag measures versus lead measures. Lag measures are the results of lead measures. As in, lag measures might be the number of books that you write this year (I urge you not to say sell because again, publishing). Lead measures would be metrics of success that lead to writing X many books this year, such as 4-5 hours of dedicated writing time every day, or X word count a week, or however you measure it. Newport urges our attention to be on Lead measures, which I do approve of.
  3. “Keep a Compelling Scoreboard.” I track word count on a graph in my bullet journal now. I used to do Victoria Schwab’s method of star stickers and a calendar which really caught on, at least amongst the writers I follow. The star calendar is much more of what Newport’s talking about here because it’s right in front of your face, it holds you accountable, and it tracks lead measures, not lag measures.
  4. “Create a Cadence of Accountability.” Meaning, check in with yourself and find out if what you’re doing is working. Are there stars on your star calendar? Are there words on your graph? Did you make progress? If so, great. Rinse and repeat. If not, what can you change about your deep work schedule to create more success and deep work?

Take Away: Set goals, figure out how to measure your progress toward those goals, hold yourself accountable, create a review system to check in with yourself. How you do that will vary person to person, but those components are critical.

 

In Conclusion

This book was interesting, helpful, and had concrete takeaways that I’ll be applying to both my jobs. I also was glad to see that habits I’d already made out of instinct were reinforced by Newport and his science. While I had mentioned a handful of frustrating patterns throughout the book, and they did leave me irritated rather than excited at the end of the book, I do think Deep Work is a valuable resource for those interested in this type of thing.

I hope this was helpful to people!

Let me know if you have any questions!

 

Revision Is My Favorite: Step One

I hate first drafts.

love revising.

First drafts are like where you dump the puzzle on the table and it’s 1500 pieces and you’re having regrets, and how much do you really want to put the pieces together to see a picture of a mountain and a lake anyway?

Revision is where the picture starts to look less like 1500 pieces piled up on the table, some facing down, some facing up, none of them looking like the picture on the front of the box, and more like …well, the picture on the front of the box.

And much like putting together a 1500 piece puzzle, I approach revision very methodically.

So as I revise The Balloonmakers #2, I’ll blog about each step. This is the first one.

I finished the first draft on Friday, March 31st. And this is the first time I’ve opened it since then. I’d ideally like to give it several weeks, but I don’t have that time because deadlines. So I let it sit for five days, and opened it up today.

Good news: It’s still a full first draft.
Bad news: it’s about as messy as I remember it being at 11pm on Friday when I finished it.

The first draft is 60,130 words. It has a different plot each act, and that’s not intentional. That’s because I kept changing my plot. This happened despite an outline, a synopsis, and an approved proposal. Because writing works like that.

So I knew there’d be gaping holes, and massive things to fix when I sat down to reverse outline it.

Reverse outlining, which I talked about before on this blog, is where you write down what actually exists on the page, versus what should exist (or you think it does in your head). I used my Scrivener dashboard to see what scenes actually existed. I don’t normally like Scrivener, but for this WIP, it works really well because my MCs are separated by an ocean for 90% of the book and I can move their plot pieces around to fit.

So even though I knew I was changing the first four chapters of this book completely, I wrote them down. 

I wrote out all of Ilse’s scenes on notecards (scene main event as a header, and then 3-4 pulse points in the scene), and then did all of Wolf’s. By doing it that way, instead of chronologically, I free up my brain to think about the story differently than the way the first draft flows, to move the pieces around later without feeling like I broke anything.

Once I had both sets of cards, I laid it out as it existed.

That’s what the middle row of photographs in this grid are. The plot, as it existed. Green for Ilse, yellow for Wolf.

Once I did that, I took out the scenes I knew didn’t work anymore with my new plot. It turned out that the new plot/final plot works just fine, other than the first four or five chapters. So then I added in the new cards for scenes I haven’t written yet. I did these in blue and pink so that I knew when I looked at my outline that these were yet unwritten.

I flipped these over to the blank sides so you could see everything without me blurring it. This is what it looked like then, after I added pink and blue, and put everything in the order I currently think it needs to go.

Then I added post-its to the cards that needed to be changed a little bit, but not enough to get a new card. Timeline changes, character introduction changes, etc. 

Then I added red balloons wherever I knew there were red balloons appear in the book. This is important as there are more balloons in this book, and Wolf and Ilse use them to communicate. 

Then I make sure that my three acts are roughly balanced. Each act here has about 14 cards now. In terms of tension and pacing, that feels OK right now. Not perfect, but OK. I’m probably going to change some of this going forward, but right now, this is the ‘outline’ I’m using to revise the book.

This is my first step. So now I’ll go revise the book, probably over the course of a week, to match this outline. Then I’ll repeat this, using but or therefore on post-it notes to connect beats, or to find gaps in my plot. After I finish those revisions, it’ll be ready for my beta readers.

To get back to the metaphor at the beginning, I dumped the puzzle out in March. And today I found all the straight-edged pieces. I’m working on the frame of the puzzle this week.

I’ll blog again at the next step, when we talk about lessons learned from revising draft 1, what the second reverse outline looks like, and how I know it’s ready for betas!

As always, if you have questions, ask away! Comments are moderated, so it may take time for the comment to show up with my answer 🙂

 

Intersections of Creativity and Productivity: Bullet Journaling

I’ve written about productivity before on this blog and all three links in this sentence will open up new tabs to past posts. As someone with attention and focus issues, I’m always looking for ways to stay organized and on task. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you probably noticed that I’ve been bulletjournaling since May. I’ve been meaning to do a post on that, but then I had a lot of thoughts, and so many feelings, so here we are.

This is going to be a four-part productivity and creativity series of posts. I’ll post once a day over four business days. Don’t look for a particular strategy there: I’m away at a book festival this weekend and I want to be around to talk about these things with you all. It’s purely selfish. I typed that “shellfish” at first. Do you see what I mean about attention and focus issues?

The first post was about productivity loops, how to watch for them, and how to get out of them without denying yourself the truest pleasure of diving into productivity blackholes (while reading about productivity…this blog series *might* be exactly what I’m warning against). The second post was about routines, and how I set a routine as a writer with a demanding full-time dayjob and mental health issues. The third post shared some other resources for whom these posts aren’t working. And the fourth post is about bullet journaling and how I use it as a Person and as a Writer.

Because we all know Writers aren’t People. We are Cylons, sitting amongst you, eavesdropping and stealing bits of your life and dialogue. Now you know.

Just kidding.

Welcome to Part Four, the final part in this blog series.

The internet is full of blogs and posts dedicated to bullet journaling and how it works for various people. I started it (thanks to Megan Erickson and Brighton Walsh and a few other romance writers) last May, after a lifetime of trying planners and failing out of them within a few weeks, if not days. But I also felt in desperate need of something to keep me on track, to keep my brain more organized, and for something that appealed to the kinesthetic learner in me. Bullet journaling seemed like it would be worth the try.

This post is long, but I hope it’s worth it.

What is bullet journaling?

Bullet journaling is essentially a self-designed planner, an analog method of to-do list/rapid logging that helps you externalize events and tasks in a format that is easy to follow, track, and record.

The thing about bullet journaling is it’s more like guidelines. There are no hard and fast rules. Don’t let anyone tell you there are. It took me several months to figure out what I liked and didn’t like about the original system and I jettisoned what didn’t work for me, and added what did work for me. I still always play with layout and formats each month, but that’s because I like that process, not because I’m still experimenting.

The original bullet journal system calls for a key, an index, a future log, a monthly overview, and then weekly or daily logs using the key. For more information about these and the original system, please visit the site of the bullet journal inventor/founder.

I do not use the key, the index, or the future log. Right now. I think my April bujo might bring back the future log solely because travel and expenses are now getting a little complicated.

But that’s the beauty of the bullet journal system: you use what works for you, and you allow that flux to happen. Last month I used dailies. For the first two weeks. Then I stopped. So this month I didn’t use dailies. But I’m missing them in some ways so I’m going to play with a layout for those.

I Googled, And Now I’m Overwhelmed

Welcome. I know. It’s really easy to get overwhelmed because a lot of people have more time and artistic ability than you or I do. Instagram and Pinterest are full of elaborate layouts and pages, templates and spreads with fancy lettering and coloring, doodles and lines. I love looking at those. I find it inspiring and soothing to see beautiful planner pages.

At the same time, that’s not for me. I don’t have the time, quite frankly, and I don’t have the artistic ability. I do like making my planner a little bit artistic so I’ll usually write nicer than I do in other places, sometimes I add washi tape (decorative tape), and sometimes I doodle. And other times, I don’t. Sometimes, it just is what it is.

A sample of a doodle from last summer. I always have a doodle section of the journal to let me have outlets like this.
Washi tape!

I need my bujo to be functional above everything else. I need it to keep track of meetings, tasks, deadlines, books I’ve read, etc. But I don’t need it to be pretty. So as much as I love other people’s gorgeous bujos, I’ve let go of that desire for myself. If a beautiful bujo is for you, that’s AWESOME. If you’re a minimalist, great. If you’re somewhere in between, awesome.

A sample of a page where it was pretty simple, but let me have some fun.

A bullet journal is for you. Unless you’re monetizing a blog about it, it’s for you. What you do with it, how you decorate it, what you write in it, how you use it…that’s you. You do not have to do anything for any other person. It doesn’t have to live up to any standards set by people on the internet. I promise.

What Do You Do?

Good question! Here are pictures of my bullet journal (with my thumb covering the tab on my journal that has my dayjob named, sorry!). You’ll see I make mistakes and I cross them out and I’ve let that exist. Past!Me would have hated the imperfection on the page but letting imperfections exist where other people can see them is something I’m working on. 

Here are all of my past journals. Especially now that I’m using them for my dayjob, I go through about one a month. Other people can use one of these for several months or a whole year. How you use it is up to you.
Here’s my current journal. I switched to tabs so I could easily find everything. I’m moving the MBB tab into an MBB dedicated journal for travel, expenses, marketing, blog posts, etc related to my The Balloonmakers series. The covered tab is my dayjob’s half of the journal.
Here’s what my month layout looks like. I only write big events and deadlines on this part. And paydays. With stickers. Because stickers.
Here are my goals for the month and my deadlines for the month! That goes opposite the month layout page.
So this is the weekly layout that works best for me. I work on a Monday to Sunday week (it’s helped enormously in terms of how I think about my time, strangely enough) and I lump tasks and events together. It’s not pretty, but it’s very functional for me.
And here’s the page opposite my weekly layout. Goals, quote of the week (smeared on the name), and general to do list.

I’ve started using weekly goals and general to-do lists for things I want to accomplish but aren’t driven by a certain day. It’s allowed me more flexibility but also kept me focused on things other than day by day events and tasks. Bigger picture stuff.

Here’s a sample from my old daily pages, with the tasks crossed out. Also feature: washi tape
I love quotes so under the doodle tab of my bujo, I usually am writing quotes or doodling poorly. I like to have a dedicated brain dump space for that.
Here’s a doodle from last summer.

I use Tombow pens for the color “highlights” you see and I do all of my lines and formats using a Sharpie fine line marker. Most of the writing is using my Pilot MR Retro Pop Collection Fountain pen. I use Leuchtturm1917 journals with the dot grid, A5/Medium size, because I prefer a hardcover journal. They aren’t cheap though, and though most bulletjournalers use a dot grid of some sort, there’s no requirement you have to. Remember, guidelines, not rules. Any notebook works if it makes you want to use it. Any pen works if you like using it. Any layout works if it works for you (though I really did trial-and-error for first few months trying different layouts I saw online and settling on this one.)

How Do You Use It For Writing?

This is still trial and error, to be quite honest. I always write down the project I should be working on on my writing days (most days are writing days these days). That’s what MBB2 is on the photos above. MBB2 = magicballoonbook #2 = The Balloonmakers #2, the book with a secret title. I always write down the weekly word count goal on weekly goals. I do weekly word count goals instead of daily goals (though I have a mental daily word count goal) because of that flexibility/motivation issue I talked about at the beginning of this series. I don’t want to get trapped and paralyzed because one day I fell 100 words short of a daily goal.

In the fall, I was writing down what I loved about what I wrote each week and what I was excited to write, and I think I’ll bring that back in April. I’m not sure what that layout looks like yet, but that particular exercise was really good for my motivation and reminding myself that not everything I wrote was crap.

I also set up a separate notebook for books. This isn’t exactly a bullet journal. It’s more of a book bible or something like that. For each book I want to write over the next year/two years/okay that’s ambitious three years, I made up a front template with pitch/word count goal/deadlines and then trackers for the drafts. Think of it like an analog Scrivener.

That’s a lot of books to write
But this has been super helpful. MBB2 is my current project, and Bea is my next project.
I didn’t write the pitch for MBB2 because it’s under contract/that secretish (I talk about it a lot though…) but this is roughly what the template looks like. The test tube progress bars at the bottom are roughly how many drafts it takes me to go from first full draft to publication. Your progress bars may differ!
Most recently, I added a graph to track my word count progress day by day to a deadline. You’ll see I a) stopped, and restarted this draft from the beginning b) messed up a line (this is driving me crazy but I’m trying to let it go) and c) have many, many words to go in the next 18 days. But it has been a helpful visualization and it’s something I’ll keep for the next WIP.
Each tab of the book bujo/book bible also has room for notes. I write historical fantasy so I do lots of research. I keep track of my timelines here.
I’m also reading a book about the OSS for this book, so I’m taking notes with page numbers here. Also in the book bujo.

I hope this was helpful to people and that you found some ideas to incorporate into your own journaling and planning routine. Or maybe you’re starting a book bujo, or a bullet journal for your everyday life. Or maybe this isn’t something for you! All options are okay. My bullet journal has made me both more productive and more creative. I hope you have a similar outlet in your life.

Questions? Comments? Leave them here or @ me on Twitter and I’ll do my best to answer them!

 

Intersections of Creativity and Productivity: YMMV

I’ve written about productivity before on this blog and all three links in this sentence will open up new tabs to past posts. As someone with attention and focus issues, I’m always looking for ways to stay organized and on task. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you probably noticed that I’ve been bulletjournaling since May. I’ve been meaning to do a post on that, but then I had a lot of thoughts, and so many feelings, so here we are.

This is going to be a four-part productivity and creativity series of posts. I’ll post once a day over four business days. Don’t look for a particular strategy there: I’m away at a book festival this weekend and I want to be around to talk about these things with you all. It’s purely selfish. I typed that “shellfish” at first. Do you see what I mean about attention and focus issues?

The first post was about productivity loops, how to watch for them, and how to get out of them without denying yourself the truest pleasure of diving into productivity blackholes (while reading about productivity…this blog series *might* be exactly what I’m warning against). The second post was about routines, and how I set a routine as a writer with a demanding full-time dayjob and mental health issues. The third post will be sharing some other resources for whom these posts aren’t working. And the fourth post (Monday) will be about bullet journaling and how I use it as a Person and as a Writer.

Because we all know Writers aren’t People. We are Cylons, sitting amongst you, eavesdropping and stealing bits of your life and dialogue. Now you know.

Just kidding.

Welcome to Part Three.

YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary).

Some people do not like applying productivity ideas and methods to their creative output. That’s totally fair. I get it. For me, productivity thought processing and methods aren’t the enemy of creativity, though maybe that’ll change at some point. Right now, they help me. But they might not help everyone.

Some people don’t need productivity methods for their creative output to be high. That’s awesome. I’m jealous, but don’t worry, I’ll get over it.

Some people will probably tell me that I’m the absolute meanest person ever in the history of the world for suggesting that there are other ways to create writing routines and productivity routines other than doing the same thing every single day in the same order. If doing things the same way every day is A) possible for you and b) helpful for you (notice the ‘and’ is not an ‘or’), then awesome. I am also jealous of you. I may or may not get over it 😉

I suspect if I was a full-time writer with better mental health, then these blog posts would look very different. More or less procrastination? Not sure. More structure to my day? Probably, if only because my dayjob probably provides more mental stability and structure than I currently graps. But that full-time writer with great mental health is not my reality, and these posts reflect my current one. I hope it was helpful to some of you who might be in the same boat as I am.

That being said, I wanted to share links to different processes, including some bullet journal links, even if they didn’t work for me. Because maybe they’ll work for you. And because sharing is caring. And I am procrastinating.

7 Rules for Maximizing Your Creative Output

Pomodoro Technique

A Procrastination Hack That’s Like the Pomodoro But Different Numbers

Time Trackers in a Bullet Journal (One; Two)

Setting Process Goals

This post is on blog writing but I think there are some good takeaways here for productivity/writing.

Getting Things Done (I’ll mention this again on Monday’s post)

A Life of Productivity (separated by subject, this whole site has productivity posts)

Building a Smarter To-Do List

Here are some books I’ve read (or, am reading) about creativity/writing/productivity that I recommend.

Deep Work by Cal Newport – just started this one and really liking it, plus it’s adding books to my TBR
Fire Up Your Writing Brain by Susan Reynolds
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Take Your Pants Off! by Libbie Hawker (book on outlining…in case the title scares you)
2,000 to 10,000 by Rachel Aaron
Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmull

 

Intersections of Creativity and Productivity: Routine

I’ve written about productivity before on this blog and all three links in this sentence will open up new tabs to past posts. As someone with attention and focus issues, I’m always looking for ways to stay organized and on task. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you probably noticed that I’ve been bulletjournaling since May. I’ve been meaning to do a post on that, but then I had a lot of thoughts, and so many feelings, so here we are.

This is going to be a four-part productivity and creativity series of posts. I’ll post once a day over four business days. Don’t look for a particular strategy there: I’m away at a book festival this weekend and I want to be around to talk about these things with you all. It’s purely selfish. I typed that “shellfish” at first. Do you see what I mean about attention and focus issues?

The first post was about productivity loops, how to watch for them, and how to get out of them without denying yourself the truest pleasure of diving into productivity blackholes (while reading about productivity…this blog series *might* be exactly what I’m warning against). The second post is about routines, and how I set a routine as a writer with a demanding full-time dayjob and mental health issues. The third post will be sharing some other resources for whom these posts aren’t working. And the fourth post (Monday) will be about bullet journaling and how I use it as a Person and as a Writer.

Because we all know Writers aren’t People. We are Cylons, sitting amongst you, eavesdropping and stealing bits of your life and dialogue. Now you know.

Just kidding.

Welcome to Part Two.

Routines

Today I was reading a blog about morning routines (I love this blog and I do think it’s interesting and helpful, but I try to read on my lunch break and not when I’m supposed to be doing other stuff). I learned two things from my read today:

  1. There are actual people in the world who have had the same morning routine for 14 straight years and the thought actually turned my stomach
  2. I don’t want or need routine in when I perform tasks as much as I need, crave, want routine inside of the task itself.

These were lightbulb moments for me. I knew that I liked routine because I am a creature of habit, through and through. I almost never alter what I order at a favorite restaurant, I get the same Starbucks drink every day, I use the same bathroom stall at work, I walk in the same pattern through Barnes and Noble, etc. I would make a bad spy and an easy target. I am a highly predictable person.

(I realize that the statement “I would make a bad spy and an easy target” is such a writer thing to say.)

The reason why routine works for a lot of people is it trains the brain to expect a certain task and to wring as much productivity or as best of a performance out of that time as possible. It’s the brain’s version of muscle memory. You hear writers talk about this Training the Brain or Brain Muscle Memory concept a lot, especially when talking about sitting down at the same time every day.

But I hadn’t expected such a visceral reaction to fourteen years of doing the same thing. And that’s when the above realizations from that blog post hit me. I like routine within a task itself, but the overall routine of my day can flux, and must flux.

Here’s why: If my daily routines become too structured, my brain becomes fixated on that instead of the task. This is likely a by-product of OCD and anxiety, but regardless of the cause, it remains an immutable fact of my neurochemistry. My days must be structured enough to provide me guidance and knowledge of what’s to come, but flexible enough to handle change. If my days aren’t flexible and something goes wrong, the inability to do the task at the intended time prevents me from doing the task at all.

My days end up structured to some extent by happenstance. I work a dayjob. This requires me to leave the house by 8:15 AM at the absolute latest, and means I get home at about 5:15 PM depending on traffic. I prefer to write in the mornings or during the day and edit at night, but I don’t always have that luxury and I’m a terrible person at mornings, so I sometimes make do with words I write at night.

But because my routine is about how I get my writing done, and not about when, I have that choice. Some mornings I can get up early and get my words done, especially if I get my lazy butt out of the door and go to a coffee shop first. Other times, I write at night. Sometimes I get to write over my lunch break.

What do I mean by my routine within my task or how I get my writing done? I use SelfControl, the app that blocks everything on the internet, Forest for my phone, and I need headphones with or without music. All that matters is my ears are covered (when I’ve forgotten headphones for some reason, headbands also work, so I keep one in the glove compartment of my car.)

Some people need the time routine. They need to write at the same time every day the same way they go to their dayjobs every day, or maybe that’s because they’re lucky enough to be writing full time. For some people, that works. And I get it. I’m sure it WOULD work for me in terms of productivity…but only as long as it ran smoothly forever. And maybe most people’s lives run smoothly. But mine doesn’t, whether it be an external obligation or an internal issue like mental health, so I am learning to allow for that.

There are other ways to build routine into a task and create that same muscle memory, even if you don’t sit down and write at the same time every day. Don’t despair. Don’t not write because you can’t write every day or your best productivity hours are 11am-2pm and you happen to work a 9-5 dayjob. Just find other ways to train your brain. A certain song, or working at a coffee shop, or an exercise before you start writing. There’s always something to produce a similar result. A routine within the task, instead of a routine of the task.

Tweet me and share your routines, or leave a comment below! I hope you’re enjoying this series.

Intersections of Creativity and Productivity: The Productivity Loop

I’ve written about productivity before on this blog and all three links in this sentence will open up new tabs to past posts. As someone with attention and focus issues, I’m always looking for ways to stay organized and on task. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you probably noticed that I’ve been bulletjournaling since May. I’ve been meaning to do a post on that, but then I had a lot of thoughts, and so many feelings, so here we are.

This is going to be a four-part productivity and creativity series of posts. I’ll post once a day over the next four business days. Don’t look for a particular strategy there: I’m away at a book festival this weekend and I want to be around to talk about these things with you all. It’s purely selfish. I typed that “shellfish” at first. Do you see what I mean about attention and focus issues?

The first post will be about productivity loops, how to watch for them, and how to get out of them without denying yourself the truest pleasure of diving into productivity blackholes (while reading about productivity…this blog series *might* be exactly what I’m warning against). The second post will be about routines, and how I set a routine as a writer with a demanding full-time dayjob and mental health issues. The third post will be sharing some other resources for whom these posts aren’t working. And the fourth post (Monday) will be about bullet journaling and how I use it as a Person and as a Writer.

Because we all know Writers aren’t People. We are Cylons, sitting amongst you, eavesdropping and stealing bits of your life and dialogue. Now you know.

Just kidding.

Welcome to Part One.

What’s the productivity loop?

Where productivity research and exploration becomes a means of procrastination.

Yeah, that’s right. I’m calling us all out on it. I’m as guilty as the rest of you.

This isn’t saying all productivity research and exploration is bad. Sometimes your brain needs downtime. I believe thinking and walking and daydreaming are all writing-tasks, and so productivity research and exploration also fall into this category. I believe journaling and making to-do lists and making lists and doodling and handlettering things to be vital to all types of people, including creative types.

But you know what I’m talking about. At some point, it crosses the line and you’re just avoiding doing the productivity tool yourself, or being productive yourself. Trust me, I know. I can spend literal hours on Instagram and Pinterest looking at bullet journal layouts I’ll never use because I’ve figured out my system and I like it. If I was only looking at the bullet journal hashtag when I needed to set up layouts for a new month and wanted to try something new, that’d be one thing. More often than not, though, I’ll find myself doing it when I should be writing. In time that I dedicated to writing.

So I try to be more mindful about when I’m using a work-related task as a path to procrastination instead of a path to productivity. This involves some self-awareness, such as checking in with myself. “Is this the right time to do this? Is there other time in my schedule to do this? Do I need this right now instead of writing because I’m burning out? Or am I just being lazy?”

And it involves a little bit of check on my lack-of-self-control. I added Instagram to the list of blacklisted sites for the app I use to block certain parts of the internet. Without the app, I wouldn’t get anything done. And sometimes, I need to add more websites to it because I find places to procrastinate that aren’t Twitter or Facebook, the original two sites I blocked. Now I block most major newspaper sites to which I’m subscribed (because the news, y’all), Instagram, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

I’ve also started scheduling time into the end of my month for me to indulge in Instagram bullet journal layout drooling and productivity blog reading. I’ve found that it helps me a) stay focused b) have fewer excuses c) actually implement some of the ideas I find because I’m setting up next month’s journal at the same time d) set goals for the next month.

It’s important to note that not all of your not-dayjob time should be Productive with a capital P. You don’t even need to be productive in your procrastination. You also need to eat, sleep, take a walk or go outside for fresh air, watch good tv, watch bad tv, read books, etc. That’s also productive. Being a human being is productive. Your Productiveness does not have to equal a certain amount of output. You do not have to prove you were productive to anyone (as long as you’re doing the work you’ve been paid to do, because that’s also important.). You don’t have to justify the use of your free time.

Let me say that again. You do not have to justify how you use your free time. (Click to Tweet This)

You as a creative person are allowed to have free time!

But Designated Productive Creative Time is not free time. If you do designate time from your day as Productive Creative Time, and you find you’re spending more time learning how to be productive in that creative time than actually being productive in that creative time, maybe check yourself before you wreck yourself. Try moving that research, that blog reading, that Instagram rabbit hole into another part of your day, and use your creativity time to do whatever you actually meant to do in that time. Because the thing about productivity is…you can read about it all you want, and redesign your bullet journal as many times as you can, and order all the stickers, and use all the planners, and fill in your calendar, but if you aren’t doing what you want to do, then…it’s not working.

Trust me. I know. I feel much better at the end of the day when I’ve written my words than if I didn’t write my words but I read blog posts about how to write more words.

So disrupt the productivity loop. Don’t let learning to be productive come in the way of actually being productive. Don’t let researching creativity and being more creative get in the way of actually making creative works.

And I’ll see you tomorrow with a post about routines, and what works for me as a writer with a full-time dayjob and mental health issues. Thanks for stopping by!

 

If you like this, please share it! Because the more people I distract by talking about how they shouldn’t be distracted, the more amusing this whole thing will be 🙂

The Girl with the Red Balloon Cover Reveal! Pre-Order Links! Giveaways! It’s Happening!

In six months, THE GIRL WITH THE RED BALLOON, my Young Adult debut, will be hitting shelves at a bookstore near you (and online, from the usual retailers, as both a physical book and as an e-book!). And I am SO excited to share this book with you. This is the book of my heart. About a girl and her grandfather, about hope, about choices we make, about what we do in impossible circumstances, about the people we love and protect, about moving forward even when we’ve been pulled to the past.

And today, the pre-order links for several major retailers are live, along with the COVER!

The cover reveal is happening over at Pop! Goes the Reader, and so while I’ve attached it below, you should check out the post! There’s a giveaway for an annotated ARC over there! And it’s open internationally!

Here’s the cover in three…two…one!

gwtrb_postcard-front_no-bleed-page-001

love this cover. Kai and Ellie kissing in the balloon. The fence and the guard tower. The colors. The tagline!!

Here’s the cover copy:

Ellie Baum feels the weight of history on her when she arrives on a school trip to Berlin, Germany. After all, she’s the first member of her family to return since her grandfather’s miraculous escape from a death camp in 1942. One moment she’s contemplating the Berlin Wall Memorial amidst the crowd, and the next, she’s yanked back through time, to 1988 East Berlin when the Wall is still standing.

Nobody knows how she got there, not even the members of the underground guild–the Runners and the Schopfers–who use balloons and magic to help people escape over the Wall. Now as a stranger in an oppressive regime, Ellie must hide from the police with the help of Kai, a Runner struggling with his own uneasy relationship with the powerful Balloonmakers and his growing feelings for Ellie. Together they search for the truth behind Ellie’s mysterious travel, and when they uncover a plot to alter history with dark magic, she must risk everything–including her only way home–to stop the deadly plans.

AHHHHHHH!!!!

I’ve been talking about this book for years and for it to finally be taking shape is…something else. I’m really excited.

So! Pre-orders! If you’re interested in pre-ordering, I’ve got links for you! Publishers determine how much push to give a book by how much buzz (sales + reviews + industry chatter) it gets before it goes on sale, not after it goes on sale. Pre-orders are super important!

If you have a Goodreads account, click here to add it to your TBR shelf!

If you want to buy a hardcover from Amazon (likely the main source of hardcovers other than libraries!), click here!

If you want to buy a paperback from Amazon, click here!

If you want to buy a paperback from Barnes & Noble, click here! (It will also be on the shelf as a paperback in Barnes & Noble!)

If you want to buy it as an eBook, it’s currently up at Kindle only but I’ll update when it’s on iTunes and Nook!

If you live abroad and need to buy from The Book Depository, click here!

I would LOVE for you to support your local indie bookstore. I think that you’ll likely have to pre-order or special order closer to release date (9/1/2017). If you support your local indie, send me an email via my contact me page and I’ll send you a signed bookplate! Honor system 🙂 Don’t worry, I’ll remind you about this much closer to release date.

I’m also starting to line up events and signings! I’ll get a calendar up when I get the OK to share the next few dates but for now, I have one event where you can find me! I’ll be at the NoVA Teen Book Festival on March 11th and while I won’t be signing ARCs, I’ll have The Girl with the Red Balloon postcards with me and I’m happy to sign one of those for you! If you see me, flag me down 🙂

In the meantime, I’m finishing up the draft of The Balloonmakers #2 and finally falling in love with it. Drafting isn’t my favorite part of the process so I know this is pretty normal for me at this stage to love/hate the work. But I love these characters and I’m excited for you to meet them…next year! First books first.

If you have any questions about The Girl with the Red Balloon, please don’t hesitate to send me an email or leave a comment!

Watching: A Drowning

 

I’ve run out of words. All I can tell you is that the waves beat ceaselessly in my mind, you should be able to save her, you should be able to save her, you should be able to save her. She has always been the shoreline. And I have always been the ocean.

She was the worst parts of me, and the best parts of me, and she saw the worst of me, and the best of me, and she loved me all the same. The best I could do was to love her the best that I could, but it could never be the same as her love for me. Because her friendship saved me and my friendship cannot save her.

So I let her go.

 

***

I don’t remember why I gave her a book of snowflakes anymore. It meant something to us that I’ve lost to medication, illness, time, exhaustion, and maybe humiliation. I remember that I wrote quotes about love throughout the pages. I remember the book was heavy enough to knock someone out. I remember realizing, then, when I gave her a book of snowflakes under a sticky Floridian spring sun, she did not love me that way I loved her.

It took me another four years to come to terms with this. To love her the way she loved me, and to let that be enough.

In the end, it was not enough. It couldn’t be.

***

For four years, she’s the first person I talk to in the morning, and the last person I talk to at night. She calls me on the way to horse shows, five thirty or six in the morning and I fall back asleep listening to her voice and the sound of her windshield wipers in the Florida rain. My phone rests on my cheek. She can hear me breathing. She talks to the horses, clucks to them and coos over them and corrects them, and I revel in the fantasy that this is my life. That I get to listen to her work, without her feeling as if she was performing for anyone. I get her tears and her anger and her affection. I get all of it before the sun rises. I forget who I am with her, and for a few years, I think that’s romantic. For a few years, romantic or not, it is enough.

In the end, it was not enough. It couldn’t be.

***

She does not lead me on, but every night she says, “I love you.” And every morning, she texts me good morning. When that stops, I miss her. When she stopped texting me good night and good morning, I knew whatever fragile hopeful thing that had grown inside me was gone. It had been a volunteer, the way a flower might reseed itself from one bed to another, and it’d been ripped out by the roots. It does not hurt to kill love this way. One day I wake up, and it aches. And the next day, it aches less. I wonder if I miss her, or I miss the fantasy that it might turn into something real, something tangible.

Now, I wonder if any of it was real.

***

When she almost dies, her roommate calls me. When she almost dies again, her mother calls me. Each time, she is angry. Angry that I reached out in desperation. Angry that I wanted to know if she was alive, or simply not answering my texts because of some unforgivable but unknown slight against her. Angry, perhaps, that I cared. Because caring meant she could not slip away into the darkness, unseen. Angry that I wanted to tether her here.

She calls me one day, and I answer on my walk home from work. I’m surprised that she called because she almost never does when she says she will. I tell her that, hoping that my voice is teasing enough not to be taken as an affront. Later, she’ll tell me that she was going to die that night, and she doesn’t, because I was happy to hear from her. We anchored each other, without realizing it.

In the end, it wasn’t enough. It couldn’t be.

***

“Come here,” I beg. “We’ll buy a little farm. We’ll get broken horses off the track and fix them.”

What I am pleading: Come here. Let me fix you. You’re not so broken you can’t be healed. We’ll create an oasis. Somewhere your mind can’t chase you so far that you can’t come home. I will be your home.

She says, “Yes. Please.”

What she means: Tell me more, so I’ll stay, but I’m not going to come. You know I won’t. Build me your home here, in the texts and emails and messages between us. This has always been enough.

What I fear: This has been enough, but now it isn’t.

I know we want different things. I want her to be whole. She wants to be untethered. They aren’t the same things. Some days, some weeks, and some months, these things cannot even exist in the same universe. We are light-years apart, and I am shouting, and all my truths turn to ash before they reach her.

In the end, it wasn’t enough. It couldn’t be.

***

She cannot breathe because of the cold, but she laughs as she jumps on the ice, cracking it beneath her boots. The boots she calls her ‘dyke boots’ long before she comes out. I take a photo of her suspended in midair. She even lets me put it online.

That night, I whisper to her in the dark. “Do you think you’re pretty?” It’s such a small, naïve question for something I don’t yet know how to ask her.

She considers it. “Sometimes.”

The next night, she’s in the passenger seat next to me on our way back from Maryland, late at night. Both of my hands are on the wheel because I’m terrified of hitting a deer. I am terrified of getting into a car accident with her. She seems fragile tonight, and I can’t figure out why.

She says to me, “How do you choose to be happy?”

I don’t remember what I said. But I’ve never forgotten her question.

In the end, it wasn’t enough. It couldn’t be.

***

I write her a poem I send to her in an email she does not answer.

It ends with,

‘So when she says, Please stay

I say, Don’t go,

And we mean the same thing.

And we leave anyway.’

Years later, I think it’s the truest thing I’ve ever told her.

In the end, it wasn’t enough. It couldn’t be.

***

She sends me a poem once. She has written it about, or for, her girlfriend. She asks me if she should send. I tell her yes. Because if I was her girlfriend, I would want poems sent to me, the way I sent them to her.

In the end, it wasn’t enough. It couldn’t be.

***

She is the gray of a harbor morning. Her hands shake all the time, and her nail beds are dark purple. The kind of purple that comes when your body doesn’t know why it bothers to send blood to all the places in your body starved for oxygen.

I promise myself that I will not nag her. I will not police her. I am her friend, not her doctor, and she promises me she’s taking care of herself. Her promise looks like three digit caloric diaries. Maybe double digits some days. Most days, even, if I’m not lying to myself.

She’s dying.

She tells me she’s going to seek treatment. She tells me she’s seeing a therapist. She tells me her fiancée knows. She tells me all of these things. She tells me that she’s finally going to get treatment for what’s been a lifelong disorder now. She tells me, last minute, that she isn’t going. She tells me as if I’m going to understand.

I don’t.

In the end, it wasn’t enough. It couldn’t be.

***

I’ve felt every emotion under the spectrum toward her. I’ve been angry enough to be speechless. I’ve been hurt enough to sob. I’ve been in love enough to be blind. I can’t separate them out anymore. They’ve stewed together too long, now, so everything is love and anger and guilt and pride and affection and fear. Nothing is as simple as it was when we were kids.

In the end, it wasn’t enough. It couldn’t be.

***

She calls me, breathless and sobbing. In my mind’s eye, I imagine her out in the middle of a field, hip-deep in grass. I have not yet traveled to northern California. I’ll find out in ten years that there’s no such place where she lives. She says, “Talk to me.”

My heart pounds in my chest. “What’s wrong?”

“No,” she says. “Tell me anything. Talk to me about anything but horses.”

So I tell her about my day, my classes, how cold it is, while I listen to her sniffle and sob. I think up a thousand terrifying scenarios. I wonder if she’s safe. I wonder if she has somewhere to sleep that night. Later, I find out that her favorite horse was sold.

The one anchor she had in the world.

She texts me, thank you for being there.

And I text back, always.

In the end, it wasn’t enough. It couldn’t be.

***

She calls me in English Literature and my phone goes off. I flush, red, embarrassed when the professor’s eyes land on me, and I send her to voicemail. I text her under the desk, in class. Will call you when I get out.

She texts back, I just talked to my dad.

She hadn’t talked to him in years. I step out of my class, though the professor glares at me, and I sit on the stairs outside the classroom, just listening. Just listening. Listening and picking at the rubber peeling off of my sneaker. It’s like picking off a scab, the way she’s picking off one by reconnecting with someone she’s known only through stories. It hurts. On the walk home, water gets through the bottom of my sneaker and soaks my foot.

In the end, it wasn’t enough. It couldn’t be.

***

I let go at some point, of the idea of being the center of her story. I had to, in order to survive, in order to allow flexibility and independence and resiliency into our friendship. I decided, in the end, that being her friend was more important to me than being her best friend.

Now, I wonder if I made the right choice. If by letting go a little bit, I let her go too much. If this downward spiral, this refusal to hold on, this refusal to listen to me where she always used to listen to me, is because I let go.

In the end, it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough. I couldn’t be.

***

She sends me a quote by email that sends shivers down my spine. But I don’t respond. I don’t remember why. I should have responded. The quote, years ago, was about feeling mute and unheard.

I thought I was listening. I wasn’t.

***

I send her a song. Falling in Love at a Coffee Shop.

She does not reply.

This is a pattern.

***

“Hey,” I tell her. “Wanna hear a joke?”

“Sure,” she says. It’s a worldweary reply. The type of surety that’s heard my jokes before. They aren’t very good.

“What does one volcano say to the other volcano?” I pause for a beat, and then start cracking up. “I lava you!”

It becomes our thing.

Eye lava ewe, we text back and forth.

It is easier to tell each other we love each other this way. It is easy to pretend it’s the kind of love that lasts. It is easy to pretend we’re talking about the same kind of love.

It wasn’t enough. It couldn’t be.

***

I am watching her drown, and I am helpless. I’m not a strong swimmer and even if I went into the water after her, she is making her own waves. She took off her own life-vest. She isn’t in the water on her own accord, but she stays there though she’s too exhausted to keep her chin above the waves now. Now, I am the shoreline, and she’s not the ocean. She’s just a girl, in the sea, too tired to swim, and too afraid to come to shore.

We are a knot, tightened by the seawater. We are impossible to untangle, and it cuts our hands to try.

In the end, it wasn’t enough. It couldn’t be.

***

I know, sometimes, that life would be easier if I could stop loving her. If I could somehow, someway excise her from my life. But I can’t. I won’t. It has nothing to do with should and would and could and ifs and everything to do with who we’ve been and who we are.

Love is a force that gives us meaning. I cannot save her by loving her. So this is what it’s like to grow up.

This is the shape of our lives: the way we brush against each other, the things we could have been, the things we say, and the things we do not.

I love a girl who loves drowning.

In the end, loving wasn’t enough. It couldn’t be.