I’m going to have to do the scary thing

I haven’t written about writing in a while, mostly because I’m sure those of you kind enough to read this blog are sick and tired of me beating the pity drum. Ugh. Even I’m tired of it. I need a freaking break.

If this is how you all feel about me, I understand.

When I’m feeling discouraged and bland, I turn to things to inspire me. I listen watch John Green videos, I listen to a podcast or two, and I read books about creativity and inspiration. I flip through Bird by Bird and On Writing on occasion. This time though, I needed something new and I needed something to help me with my particular problem.

By happenstance (re: stalking Briana Hansen’s website), I saw that she listed two books by the author Steven Pressfield, The War of Art and Do the Work as her inspirations. Now this girl seems to be always working and trying new things. I figured she knows a thing or two about this whole story telling process, so I checked out the books from the library.

Inside, there were many tokens of wisdom. I scolded myself for not buying these books so I could mark them up. There were two things that stood out for me. The first was this simple statement: “You are not the problem. The problem is the problem.”

My new BFF Steve then goes on to explain that problems are solvable. I needed to read this because part of my hang ups with attacking the problem were basic insecurities. I pretty much thought that my problems were a result of my inability to be a writer. Maybe this is a waste of my time and I am just not good enough to do it. I can play on the JV team but I’ll never make varsity. It’s depressing and it stomps all over your motivation.

So then I knew I could solve the problem. This wasn’t the end. I have the key that unlocks the solution. I don’t know the details, but I know I have the ability.

With a fraction of faith in myself restored, I began to obsess over the problem. I kept coming back to the ending. That damn ending. From the climax on, I felt like the story was plagued with problems. I wasn’t feeling this way because I was insecure, I was feeling this way because I knew there were problems.

I have a blank wall that I stare at every day in my room. With my upcoming move, there’s no reason to hang anything so I used this space as my own personal sticky-note playground to help me figure out what I needed. I’m a very visual person, so I had to see what I had so far. Then I could figure out where to go from there.

Not quite like Carrie Matheson, but close.

Not quite like Carrie Matheson, but close.

I tried to do this once before in a very detailed, extensive, and exhaustive process that I documented here on the blog. This, in hindsight, was one of those things where I had good intentions and my love for organizing took over and it became more about that process that actually trying to dissect and examine my manuscript. *scolds self*

Just keep it simple, I said. So I wrote down the three big questions I had and then went back to Sensei Pressfield. His advice was to start at the end. Oh, the dreaded end. So I used the bright yellow sticky notes and wrote what the end of the book, or the climax, was going to be. He says, “figure out where you want to go; then work backwards from there.” Then I wrote next to it (in the light purple) a simple question that to help me refine my destination.

What is this all about?

I wrote down one word (I’m not going to give it away, but all it took was one word) and then stuck it next to the question. I sat on my bed, proud of myself despite it being 1 a.m. and then I realized that I was going to have to focus all of my energy on those yellow stickies. I am going to have to write those scenes and put them together. And I’m going to have to do it as if I didn’t write 75,000 plus words before that.

For a writer, that is scary. For me, it’s downright terrifying. I have slaved over those words. I gave them to my writer’s group, my writer confidant Katherine has them now, and I hate the thought of pressing the mental backspace button, even if it’s only temporary. I feel like I’m undoing a year’s worth of work. It hurts my heart a little.

troy my emotions

It has to be done though. If I am to do the work, I have to discard all the crap that surrounds those sticky notes and focus on writing them. It’s going to be insanely hard. I can’t have what I’ve previously written weigh me down and tie me to things I need to erase. It’s best to start with a clean slate. No one has told me this exactly, I just know it thanks to my writer’s intuition.

I would love to be one of those people who could set aside a chunk of time and just hammer it out. My life isn’t like that though. So, after careful consideration, I’ve decided to go dark on the internet until that yellow glob of stickies is all taken care of. This will be especially hard with the Superbowl on Sunday. I’m definitely going to want to read the hilarious Twitter commentary and let all my friends on Facebook know how much I love Peyton and my Broncos.

Peyton has faith in me.

So I guess that means I have five days to get it done. No Twitter, Facebook, blogging, Instagram, Snapchat (le gasp!), Pocket, Tumblr, Goodreads, Candy Crush (!), Feedly, and Foursquare* until it’s done and done well enough that I can put the book together then. If you want to get a hold of me you’ll have to text, email, or even call me. I know, crazy. Actual phone calls.

Wish me luck.

So until the problem is solved, and for all our sakes I hope to God it’s close to solving, I’m out.

*no wonder I can’t get anything done

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Things from fairytales that I wish were true

It’d be nice if some things from fairytales happened in real life, wouldn’t it?

This was the thought that stampeded through my head when my boss’ six-year-old daughter was telling me the plot of the ‘The Princess and the Frog.’ As we all know, the Prince in the story pulls some douche moves and gets turned into a frog, only cured by true love’s kiss. I was suddenly envious of this small little plot device from a worn-out story. If I could just have this one thing in my life, I’d save myself a lot of time and/or emotional distress.

I don’t want my life to resemble a Disney movie in that I fall for a prince I just met, or that I have evil step sisters, or I brush my hair with a fork. No thank you. But, I would really appreciate it if there were some magical device that would tell me when I kiss someone if this was going to go anywhere or not. Some little sign. I would appreciate it. That way, I could stop ditching potential husbands and pursuing guys that are unattainable and a total waste of my time.

Just give me a sign whether or not to use the hammer. (via giphy.com)

While we’re at it, there’s another thing from fairytales I would like, or Disney movies in particular, and that is adorable woodland creatures who are sometimes dressed as humans to help me do my chores. I try not to whine about them, because I am a self-sufficient, independent woman who is blessed not to have to clean things for a living, but I really, really hate cleaning bathtubs. There’s about 100 things I’d rather do than clean the bathtub and the include such unpleasant experiences as going to the DMV, figuring out health insurance, and chopping onions. Think of the time I would save! Think of the brain cells that would be spared the awful stench of bleach!

Thanks for the assist, animals! (via notcoming.com)

Having a fairy godmother who can turn a vegetable into a beautiful carriage would also be great. It’d be even better if she could change it into an eco-friendly, reliable car in the shade of blue that makes me look adorable. I’m all about saving my pennies since I’m a starving artist, so this would be incredibly helpful. Add it to the wish list

Pimp my ride, fairy godmother (via tumblr)

Sigh, a girl can dream, right?

Taking a moment to be serious: Sixth grade Amanda and a scandalous book

It’s cheesy to admit this, but there are some books out there that always make me think of certain people. ‘The Lovely Bones’ makes me think of my friend Kayla and ‘Gone with the Wind’ makes me think of my mother. I was scrolling through Twitter and taking in the terribleness that is the recent ‘Flowers in the Attic’ adaptation on Lifetime.  It’s based on the book of the same name by V.C. Andrews.  Instead of reading the snarky tweets, I thought about a girl, Amanda, who was one of my first friends in junior high. She passed away a couple of years ago, her death surrounded by rumor and vague circumstances.

I arrived at St. Anne’s as the new girl in the 6th grade, painfully shy and with terrible bangs. I was immediately intimidated by Amanda.  I was quiet and she was not. She had a loud, boisterous laugh. Her voice would carry across the playground, lunch room and down the stairwell that separated the two sixth grade classrooms. I was as naive as could be, and I remember spending one recess embarrassed and uncomfortable at how much Amanda swore. It’s hard to even think that Amanda and I were technically the same age. Where as I was a stick, all angles and straight lines at age 12, Amanda had the body of a twenty something, mature physically with obvious “street smarts.” I was extremely scared of her, especially when she became the girl with “that” book.

(via Wikipedia)

Amanda, for all her quirks and what people would dub as a general “weirdness” in junior high, was actually incredibly nice to me. She would have conversations with me, invite me to hang out in her circle at recess, and include me in after school activities. She, like me, liked to read and I remember one time on the playground her activities for the day alternated between gushing about this book she had, a worn black paperback with a red and blue house and a girl’s face in the attic window, and shoving her nose in said book, blocking out the rest of us. She read it and reread it and finally I was curious so I asked her if I could read it.

This book was ‘Flowers in the Attic.’ The story involves a family of four children who are sent to live with their grandmother and she’s a sociopath so she locks them in the attic for years. The older brother and sister develop a romantic relationship. Some other stuff happens, but I didn’t get very far because the book disturbed me. I didn’t want to read it anymore, so I stuck it in Amanda’s backpack in the coat room. I was too embarrassed to face her and tell her I didn’t like it. To my surprise, she never bothered me about it and eventually moved on to other things to obsess over.

As we grew older, we grew apart, which happens to many friendships that start in junior high. Amanda went to the same high school as me, but ended up leaving, and I only saw her once after that, when I ran into her at the movies. I don’t really know what she did after she left Holy Family. It wasn’t until I heard that she passed away that I realized she was as a person who exposed me to other elements of the world.

Amanda’s background was different than mine, meaning she did not have a  mom and a dad who were still married to each other like I, and mostly every kid I knew, had at the time. She was raised by an uncle and his partner. My friendship with her was my first exposure to someone who had gay dads. She also was the first friend who got me into trouble. I was grounded for two weeks for lying to my parents about something I can’t even remember fifteen years later, but I know it involved her.

Everyone has that one friend that gets you out of your shell a little, and for me it was Amanda. Whether it’s her absence or the pretty color nostalgia paints on our memories, I can’t help but smile when I reflect on those recesses and trips to Water World. She reached out and took me under her oddball, profanity-laced wing during a time when I was really lonely.

What surprised me most about her death was I always sort of hoped things would work out for her. In fact, I almost counted on it. Because Amanda was nice to me, I rooted for her to have a happy ending. I wanted her to have a satisfying relationship with her family, to find her true calling, to be with a man who loved her, and to enjoy her life. I thought she would get that eventually because she had been through enough and the universe. After all, Cathy, the protagonist in “Flowers in the Attic,” gets a “happy ending” in the sequels (or so Wikipedia tells me).

There was no happy ending for Amanda though. Untimely deaths are an ugly blemish on any optimistic landscape, a reminder that everyone gets and ending, but sometimes it isn’t what you expect or what they deserved, and that’s just the way it is. I don’t feel led astray that I believed in Amanda’s happy ending, I only feel sad that she herself won’t get it.

UGH. I am frustrated.

Dear readers, I try to sound cheery when I write in this blog but right now I am not cheery. Not at all. I am all aboard the struggle bus, cranky, bad attitude in tow and I’m wanting to quit this whole writer thing and go tend bar in the Caribbean. It’s warm there and I can drown my feelings.

ann drunk with straw

I wrote here a little while ago about endings and how I was feeling the pressure to come up with a good one for mine. That’s a pretty mild statement. It was more along the lines of lying awake at night, staring at the ceiling, wondering if an ending will ever come to me, or if I should throw in the towel. I was all perky and glass-is-half-full in that post. Now I’m not. Now I’m full of despair.

Well, no use wallowing in my frustration, so I decided to do something about it. With all the abandon I could muster, I wrote ending after ending after ending. I didn’t care if it was sad, dark, over-the-top, sentimental, confusing, unrealistic or anything like that. I just wrote as many as I could. All of them were stupid.

Except for one.

I patted myself on the back and shut down my Mac for a two week vacation. I came back, fired up my Mac ready to plug in the scene and pronounce myself done, but I read it over and almost slammed my head on the desk.

It’s a great scene…it’s just not a great ending scene.

Am I ever going to come up with one? If I can’t decide how to end the book, is the book completely pointless? Have I been sweating over something for over a year for no real reason at all? How am I going to fix this? How am I going to end this damn thing?!?!

I once read that Hemingway wrote 47 different endings until he settled on The One for ‘ A Farewell to Arms.’ That’s great and all, but time is of the essence here. I have a deadline to meet! And I am nowhere near the literary genius he was.

I keep on trying out things in my mind like ‘how would [insert author name here] end it?’ Well that’s a dumb question. I am not that person. I would also ask myself ‘how would one of my friends want it to end?’ This is also a dumb idea because while my friends have great taste, this is not their novel. It’s mine. And what kind of endings do I like? Well, I like a good heartfelt twist. I don’t like unnecessary deaths. I like a sense of conclusion, but with room for interpretation.

It’s so easy for me to write that out but it’s much, much harder to write it and put it into your novel. Trust me. It makes me want to toss the whole thing and start from scratch but that’s not only terrifying, it’s also stupid because while there is a pretty big pile of crap in that draft, there’s also some sort of gem in there. I know it. My writer intuition tells me so.

I just want this novel to be done and it’s not and I’M FRUSTRATED.

What to do? Any advice friends (writers or not)? Words of encouragement? Adorable pictures of puppies to take my mind off my very first-world-creative-type problem?

Forget the Oscar-bait movies, these three are better

If you’re at all like me, you were watching the Golden Globes last night and thinking ‘I haven’t seen any movies this year.’

This is unusual for me. I like to see almost, if not all, of the buzz worthy movies. Last year I had seen all of the Oscar Best Picture nominees. This year, I’ve only seen one of the sure-fire nominees, American Hustle. I went and saw it with my friend Katie and we had a similar opinion. It was good, but not that good.

In the following weeks I’ll be playing catch up on my 2013 movies, but looking back the movies that I did see and liked the most (minus Catching Fire, obviously) were three tiny little independent films that were beloved by critics but ignored by the masses. It’s a shame, too, because the films, all anchored by young people in amazing performances, are being overlooked this award season, too, which is a shame considering that I’d say all of these movies were better than American Hustle.

‘The Spectacular Now’

If you have a beating heart in your chest, you will find something to like about this movie. I read the book, which was also good, but the movie is something of a marvel, considering that it’s anchored by the little known actor Miles Teller. He mostly plays a jackass in college-aged comedies, but here he breathes depth and soul in Sutter Keely, the alcoholic teen getting through his senior year. He’s co-star, Shailene Woodley, shines here as well, capturing Aimee so completely and giving a brave, vulnerable performance. The supporting cast is great, the script solid, and the it’s simplicity and effectiveness is simply, well, spectacular.

‘Fruitvale Station’

A Friday Night Lights alum in a movie? Sure, I’m there (minus that Taylor Kitsch crap). Michael B. Jordan plays Oscar Grant and again, it’s another great young actor with a superb, star-making performance. The film is directed by a first timer, Ryan Coolger, and I hope he gets lots of other projects because man, does he hit it out of the park. The film is so simple, just showing the basic events of his day that lead up to his murder by a policeman in the Fruitvale station in Oakland. His mother, played by Octavia Spencer, is also great and the film will break your heart, enrage you, and remain a reference point for the many other films that are sure to follow it, especially in the wake of the George Zimmerman trial.

‘Short Term 12’ 

Brie Larson was, to me, just the girl from the 21 Jump Street remake but now she’s is, to me, simply a great actress. Larson plays Grace who is a supervisor in a foster care center for at-risk youth. She’s the kind of character who you root for simply because you can tell how much she cares for the broken people around her, even when she herself is broken. I loved the love story between her and Marcus (John Gallagher Jr., who should leave The Newsroom and do more movies like this). This film take that ‘inspirational teacher’ genre and tilts it to let in some fresh air and new light.

What were your favorite movies of the year? Were any of them little indies like these? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter, I’m @emhof.

One day, I will be 30

Hello everyone! It’s good to be back in beautiful, warmer-than-the-North-Pole Colorado. I loved my time in the Midwest, but it’s always nice to come home.

January can be kinda bland for some people, but it isn’t for me because it’s my birth month. That’s right, on January 22, 1987 I was brought into this world at the Air Force Academy Hospital. For those of you who can quickly crunch numbers, that means I’ll be 27 soon, three years away from the big 3-0.

I spent a lot of time freaking out about being 26. As my friend Laura so eloquently put it (quoting the greatest modern-day source of truth we know, Buzzfeed), it’s the age you realize that someday you are going to die. That’s a scary thought, really, but one year later I find myself totally over my immature apprehension and really looking forward to life in my late 20s.

I seem to be one of those people addicted to making lists and setting goals, and even though it’s considered to be kinda cheesy, I really wanted to make a ’30 Before 30′ list. I’ve shared this list with a few pals since I wrote it (and changed it some since then…stealing one of my roommate’s goals—Sorry I’m not sorry, Danielle), but now I’m putting it here so the internet will keep me on task. Also, some of you may live in Michigan, or know where I can ride a motorcycle, or happen to own a box set of ‘The Wire’ on DVD and you can help me out. The thing I like most about doing these lists are the experiences I have, and those are shaped by the people I share them with.

January 22nd is usually the one day a year I get to hear from all the people that I love. Far flung friends send texts, tweets, and wall posts. Cherished close friends give me a call and I get to hear their voices. My grandmother always sends me a beautiful card and my parents take me to dinner. Nothing makes me happier than friends and family and that is why I will always cherish this birthday, and all the ones that (hopefully) follow leading to 30 and beyond.

  1. Go to the remaining 14 states I haven’t been to (Utah, Washington, Oregon, Michigan, Arkansas, Montana, Alaska, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia)
  2. Run the Flying Pig half marathon
  3. Read the 100 list on my website
  4. See a baseball game at Wrigley Field
  5. Make a 3 course meal, by myself, for my friends
  6. Create a comprehensive family tree and put it somewhere SAFE
  7. Go on a writer’s retreat with NO INTERNET
  8. Publish a book in some format
  9. Get my ears pierced
  10.  Learn to dance
  11.  Collect bookmarks from an Independent bookstore in all 50 states
  12.  Make a grown up financial decision or investment
  13.  Go on a foreign service trip
  14.  Ride a motorcycle
  15.  Make my own dress and wear it out
  16.  Go to an NBA game
  17.  Go to the sand dunes, Mesa Verde, and Four Corners
  18.  Attend a live taping of a tv show
  19.  Sing karaoke
  20.  Watch the Godfather movies
  21.  Shoot a gun and a bow and arrow
  22.  Buy a real video camera and film something
  23.  Climb Longs Peak
  24.  Start a garden
  25.  Take a class on David Foster Wallace
  26.  Finish the West Wing and the Wire
  27.  Attend the Kentucky Derby and bet on a horse
  28.  Go to Niagara Falls
  29.  Write an online story/scavenger hunt
  30.  Run a triathlon

(You can always view the list below by clicking the ’30 Before 30′ link at the top of the page.)