Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Book Writing Thoughts

The write up of my solo trip is going along nicely. I should be finished with the initial draft in the next week or so, which works well with my schedule. I'll be completely done with Spanish class as of 12/12, and my office will be shut down between Christmas and New Years, leaving me with plenty of time to work on polishing the draft, formatting the pictures, and laying out the book.

I find once the words are done and ready, the rest of the book comes together more easily. The formatting of the pictures and their captions takes time, but not the same kind of effort that the writing of the main narrative requires. I'm looking forward to doing the pictures because it's work that is creative but also comfortingly repetitive. The pictures need to be formatted to a certain size, occasionally cropped or otherwise manipulated, but these are tasks that I'm used to doing by now. 

Coming up with captions can sometimes be a bit tricky, but it's still not that difficult for me. Especially when I have my husband to bounce ideas off of as I'm working. 

The hardest part about the pictures is going to be selecting which photos to include. I took over 1000 pictures. Even if I take away all the blurry ones, of which there were quite a few because I was in "hike fast" mode, I'll still have a ton of shots that I won't be able to include in the book. 

But that's part of why I leave the pictures for after the writing. Whatever form the narrative takes, I'll be able to find the pictures that illustrate and compliment that. This time, I'm less focused on narrating every step and more focused on telling an interesting story. There are some interesting tidbits that I don't think will be in the text, but I will include them in a picture with a little caption. Almost as if the pictures and their captions will have "extra" story in them, parallel to the narrative. 

I use the pictures while I write. They help remind me of what happened when, and, quite frankly, they make me smile. Until I get to the point of picture choosing and editing, I'll just  have to keep chipping away at the story of each day - and put some caption notes on the pictures as I scroll by. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Reasonable Pace

Before the Thanksgiving break, I was concerned about whether I would finish writing the first draft of my solo trip before the new year. But as I relaxed into the writing, I found that the words came without much prompting, and I feel that I may well finish within the next two weeks - still cutting it close to get a book published before January, but I could get it done.

I think the main reason that it's easy to write about my trip is that it makes me happy. The trip was hard. Hard on my body and hard on my mind. But the memories make me smile, even the memories of the pain and the difficulties. And especially the memories of the incredible views, the solitude of nature and the animals I spotted in passing (no bears!).

Creating these books started as a project to share the trail with my mom, and the rest of my family, who probably don't understand this whole backpacking thing any better than I did before I started it. It seems a little silly to travel with your legs over the course of days what you could travel in a car in an hour or so. But there are no cars allowed where I like to travel, and the world looks different when you travel 1 to 3 miles per hour instead of 30 to 70.

I appreciate the conveniences in my apartment so much more after I've been deprived of hot, running water, toilets, refrigeration, chairs and beds. And as I sit in my apartment, typing up the adventure of that trip, I appreciate what I purchase with the lack of conveniences.

I purchase confidence, accomplishment, breathtaking views, new experiences, challenges and summits, and the feeling of surmounting those.

It's an exchange I'll take. Sometimes I even think about taking it further, haring off to live somewhere less convenient, where the winters bring feet of snow and the summers mean hard work. Maybe someday. For now, I'll remember my summer experiences during the winters. I'll plan my next year's journeys. And I'll keep writing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Writing the Solo Trip

I'm finally getting down to the serious business of writing up my solo trip. I'm taking a bit of a different tack this year. Instead of writing the whole trip as I recall it, I'm trying to make it more of a story. I still want to include as much of the journey as possible, but I want to make sure that the emotional journey is as clear as the physical one.

This year's solo had quite a few aspects that differentiated it from previous years. It was the first time I was hiking on trails I'd never walked before. I had never before hiked so many miles per day before. And I'd never had to deal with the challenge of meeting up with my husband for a resupply and then leaving him again the next day.

Prior years, I'd write the trip in a single document. This year I'm creating a document for each day and letting my husband read them as I finish. I think this method will help me keep moving, by allowing me to show my progress as I go.

I'm also adding captions to pictures as I think of them, which I hope will help once I get to the adding pictures stage. That won't happen until all the words are written. I look through the day's photos as I write, but I don't insert them into the document. The story of the trip needs to stand on its own first.

The plan is to make some good progress over this Thanksgiving break on the write up so that by the time the Christmas break rolls around I'm, at the very least, working on inserting pictures and formatting the book. I'll do my best to get it finished before the new year, but I won't panic if that doesn't end up happening.

I'll just keep working until I'm finished and write the best book that I can.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Silver Lining Rejections

I still haven't sold a short story, but I'm beginning to experience something a little different with my rejections since I started to submit some of the stories that I wrote over the summer. For the very first time (from professional markets), I've received personalized feedback from the editor(s) rejecting my stories.

Not just one story, but two stories so far have received that treatment, from two different markets.

The first one was actually preceded by a very hopeful email informing me that my story had made it past the first cut, into rarefied territory. It would take up to an additional month to hear the decision, but at least I knew that it had gone somewhere, that it wasn't just slushed out of hand.

"They" say you shouldn't take form rejections personally, and I try not to, but after a while they get depressing. I have no idea what exactly has been "wrong" with my story to garner such a bland response. It's a signal that my story is in that large pile of rejects that aren't "worthy" of an additional response.

And yet, a personalized rejection is still a rejection. At first, I wasn't happy to be seeing yet another rejection. Sure, my story had made it past the first round of consideration, and that was great. And the editors liked my story, which was also great. But they didn't want to buy it, and that... was not so great.

But then I received the second rejection with notes, on a different story, submitted to a different market. Again, the first reaction was that crushing sense of defeat, but that probably had as much to do with the fact that I really needed to eat as anything else (hard workout, followed by shopping - I needed lunch). It was in the shower, washing the salt from my skin, that I came to the understanding that the feedback was in fact a very good sign, despite the rejection.

And, in both cases, the feedback was helpful. It confirmed that my stories are approaching what these particular editors are looking for, even if they haven't quite reached it. And it's helping me keep the stories "in the mail" and circulating. It's pushing me to do something with all the stories I wrote over the summer, not just the two I had initially started submitting.

So I've got one more circulating and I'm going to self publish two others. I'm going to keep working, keep moving forward and continue improving until I get something other than even the nicest of rejections.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Ready for Some Football

I can't say that I had never been to a college football game before last Saturday. But the one game that I had attended was not exactly a large affair. It was more than twenty years ago, a game at Wheaton College against Millikin. And the only reason I was there was because I lived in the town next to Wheaton and my cousin was Millikin's punter.

What I remember of the Division III match-up was simple metal bleachers, not much bigger than the ones at my brother's park district baseballs games. I remember a grassy field that extended under said bleachers. I remember walking around, bored, because I didn't know the rules of the game and I didn't want to know. I watched my cousin when he punted without understanding that punting was not a good thing for his team to be doing.

And so, when I attended the Boise State versus San Jose State game on Saturday, it was an entirely different kind of experience.

There was no grassy field to be seen. Instead, Albertsons Stadium hid the famous blue turf from view until I passed through the security line, complete with metal detectors and the possibility of additional screenings by wand wielding security officials. Past that point, I couldn't see anything but concrete until I climbed a set of stairs.

The main concourse reminded me of being a hockey game; food and drink were available and there were plenty of restrooms. But it was all open air, and I imagined it could be quite a miserable experience in the cold and the rain. I could see glimpses of the field, but it was clear that this was not the place from which one was supposed to view the game.

To get to my seat, I had to climb yet more stairs, and then more stairs. I was only a few rows down from the very top of the seating area under the Stueckle Sky Center, and my legs felt every narrow concrete step. The steps felt extra narrow because I had taken the precaution of wearing my hiking boots to keep my feet warm. They add an inch to my height and at least two inches to my foot length.

I arrived at my seat about a half an hour before the game started and I just stared. At the people still making their ways to seats, at the teams practicing on the blue turf below, at the marching band gathering and the large American flag being held across the field in preparation for the anthem.

The field looked so small from up there, as if 100 yards were 100 feet instead. And, after I got to see the exciting ritual of the hammer wielding home team entering the field and the marching band playing the anthem, when the game actually started, it still seemed small. The players on each team seemed to move down the field at incredibly fast rates.

And yet, the game itself seemed to go incredibly slowly. Thanks to my backpacking inflatable seat cushion, my rear wasn't freezing on the metal bleacher bench, but by the middle of the second quarter my bladder was starting a war with my desire a) to see everything that was happening in the game and b) not to have to climb those stairs again.

That other long ago game was an afternoon game, and I remember that we stayed for the whole game. This game started after 8 pm and it took an incredible effort to make it past half time (which I wanted to see for the marching band). I watched one more drive after that and gave up to ride my bike home after 10 pm. As luck would have it, Boise State got a touchdown on that drive and I was able to head out on a high note.

I had a good time at the game. It turns out that knowing the rules contributes a great deal more to the enjoyment of a football game than simply knowing the punter.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Trying to Ramp up

I've been very low energy the last week or so. It's hard to get to the writing desk and work on the various projects that I have going. I'm keeping up with work, school, exercise and the 30 day diet challenge that I'm halfway through.

I'm not keeping up with the writing of my solo trip as much as I want to, but after having so many weeks sick in September and October I'm a little more confident that once I'm past this slump I'll be able to get the work done that I want to get done. And there won't be any classes over the week of Thanksgiving, so as long as there's not too much homework, I should be able to get some serious writing done while I'm off work for the holiday.

I'm not as far into the writing of the solo trip as I wanted to be at the beginning of November, but I believe I can catch up and still get the book out at my customary time of December/January. I'm trying to write captions as I go, when they occur to me, saved on the photos themselves in the metadata (my husband's idea). That should help speed up the process once I'm ready to start putting words and photos together into the master file. I also did a lot of work on the look of the cover last year that I'm not going to try and change this year.

The writing itself isn't difficult. In fact, when I get my butt in the seat and settle into writing, it goes surprisingly quickly. I'm trying to be more conscious of the trip as a personal journey and not just a series of places and things. I came up with various theme statements for each day and I'm keeping them in mind as I write, considering how they relate and which ones relate best. I'm also trying to be less stringent in how I tell the story; chronological order is great, but I'm not going to be wed to it if I see a way that a different order would better serve the tale.

Reviewing the pictures as I go along brings me back to the steps of that journey, the smells of the woods, the tastes of the energy bars, the sounds of water flowing and birds tweeting. I remember the bruise on my back from the metal bench at Willow Creek Campground and the bruises on my shins from an ill-advised, missed box jump a few days before the trip began. The pictures themselves become windows to the wider view in my memory.

I just have to focus on how nice it is to think about that trip and then maybe I'll get my butt in the chair a little more frequently.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Living Languages Are Hard

Much to the disappointment of my mother, in high school I took Latin and Ancient Greek. She wanted me to learn Spanish, which makes sense because my dad and his side of the family speaks Spanish. I wanted to learn Latin, because I liked the idea of learning a foundational language. Theoretically, learning Latin would help me learn any Romance language, including Spanish, more efficiently.

But now I'm taking Spanish (my mom has forgotten most of hers), and I'm starting to have some difficulty. I tested into Spanish 201 by using the Duolingo app, so I don't have as much of a grounding in the basics of some verb forms as I'd like. And I've never taken a college level Spanish class before so I don't know if my class is typical or not. We don't use the (expensive, online only) textbook very much at all, and though the class is supposed to be conducted solely in Spanish, the instructor breaks down multiple times a class into English either because she doesn't know the Spanish or the class is looking at her with baffled incomprehension on our faces.

Also, and I write this knowing I have a history of being annoyed by the verbal tics of instructors, she uses the English word, "kay" a lot (short for okay), which confuses the heck out of me because it sounds just like the Spanish word, "que."

I do well enough on the tests and homework assignments, but I cannot seem to have a conversation with anyone in Spanish without stammering, hesitating, and losing track of what we're talking about. I hear one unfamiliar word and lose everything after. Or I can't understand someone's accent, or I just don't know the words that I want to use, or how to express what I want to express.

I have to translate what I'm saying before I say it. I have to translate what others are saying before I understand it. And I don't know how to get past that.

The present subjunctive wasn't too hard to learn, but the imperfect subjunctive is formed using the third person plural of the preterite. And I've never, ever learned the preterite. I've barely even heard of it.

So I'm simultaneously frustrated and excited by class at this point. There's so much that I don't know and it bothers me. But as I continue to work with Duolingo, I can see what I've learned by rote using the app starting to make sense with what I learned in class. If all I had to do was translate, like with Latin, then I'd be doing fine.

But Spanish is a living language, and I'm being evaluated not only on how well I can write or read it, but also on how well I can speak and listen to it. I'm trying to find that switch in my brain to start myself thinking in Spanish, but I don't know where it is or how to flip it.