Tuesday, May 31, 2011


So for the past couple of weeks I've been planning on writing some kind of introspective post about all the changes that are about to happen in my life: how I was feeling about moving back home and finishing school and leaving my job and friends and the city I've come to love and then...well, then I looked at my calendar and realized it's already JUNE! When did that happen?

All those changes aren't about to happen, they ARE happening. Two weeks and I'll be moving back to Denver, after four years away. Six more days of work and I'll walk out of this office building for the last time. Three more classes and I'll be done with grad school. It seems like it was only yesterday that I was moving to Chicago, sharing a studio for a month with a friend I'd known forever before finding our own place, sending out school applications and job applications and learning how to ride the el. But it's been two and a half years. A lot has changed.

My cousin was six months old when I first moved here and now she's about to turn three and has a little sister--and I've gotten to see them both grow up. I have a new roommate but she's still someone I've known most my life and we're back to living in a tiny studio as she waits for me to move out. I've fallen in love with writing, with creating stories that hopefully someday someone else will love too. I've written a book.

I don't know what I'll be doing in a month or six (besides revisions, those are a sure thing) but I'm far less worried about it than I should be.

I'm leaving friends and family in Chicago to be closer to friends and family in Denver; I'll still be writing, I'll still be learning, and eventually (hopefully) I'll be working. That's the gist of it. So maybe things aren't changing that much after all--I just get new scenery.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Speed writing (or not)

We all move at our own speed.

I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty fast walker--I walk with purpose and I’m endlessly irritated by the people in the city who take up the whole sidewalk then walk like snails--but lately I’ve been having doubts.

There’s a guy who works in my building who happens to also take the same trains as me to and from work every day. In the morning we leave the train stop at the same time and walk the same three blocks to the office. But somehow he always gets there a half block ahead of me. Same thing at the end of the day: we leave at the same time—holding the front door open for each other on our way out—and yet he gets to the train platform first. Most sane people wouldn’t even notice this.

So, of course, it Drives Me Crazy! And yes, I have spent way too much time trying to figure it out.

Does he have longer legs? Nope, I’m tall too. Is he some weirdo speed walker? Nope, I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve tried to take steps in time with his (from a ways back so he doesn’t actually see that I’m a crazy person, duh), and STILL he pulls further and further ahead of me. So either I’ve been completely delusional about my fast-walker status for my entire life, or this guy has trolls in his shoes that make it look like he’s walking on his own personal moving sidewalk everywhere he goes.

I’m hesitant to label myself delusional…so I’m going with the shoe trolls.

All of this is silly and pointless really, but it’s been on my mind a lot lately as I get closer and closer to finishing my first draft. (One.More.Chapter.Ahhh!) It’s been just about a year since I started and though I have my share of excuses for why it took this long* the Me in my head keeps saying, “A year?! That’s a long freakin’ time! What kind of writer could you possibly be if it takes you That Long to finish a crappy first draft. A year is an eternity.”**

And yet, is it?

I’ve learned a lot from this draft. I know it’s far from finished***, but I also know that my next first draft won’t take as long. I know that, though the draft is crappy now, I can make it better. I’m trying to convince myself that my speed is okay and necessary and none of anybody’s business.

So, I’m trying to just breathe and ride out the end of this draft with happy thoughts, because I know a new challenge is waiting in the next round. It’s okay that the guy with shoe trolls gets to the train before I do, because I still always make it in time.

Plus, there’s the woman from two cubes over who asked me earlier this week how I got to the train so gosh-darn fast. At least I’ve got her beat.

*Work, school, family drama, and lately the whole packing-and-getting-ready-to-move-to-a-new-city thing.
**The Me in my head can be really mean. (So I kick her, sir!)
***Oh the revisions, they LOOM!

Monday, February 21, 2011

There is a man behind the wall (and he is yelling)

So I know I've been MIA, and I don't have much of an excuse for it. (School started. Homework and work and writing are taking up my time! Oh, and I've spent a good amount of time watching all three seasons of Veronica Mars. But no excuses.) To make things worse, this post isn't going to have anything to do with writing. I could talk about how I'm having a very, very hard time finishing my stupid first draft, or I could write about the torture that is my snobby writing classes, or about how the first season of VM is the perfect example of what a story should be (the plotting, the dialogue, the characters, I'M DROOLING!), but instead you're getting this. I apologize in advance.

For those of you who don't know, I work in the journal department of a university press. We operate pretty separately from the university itself, except for the fact that we’re actually on campus, sharing a building with the continuing education department.

Usually this isn’t a problem, there are rarely students in the building and our little bank of cubicles is tucked into a usually quiet corner of the building, separate from the other offices and press departments.

But there is a classroom.

The only classroom that’s actually located in the building, actually, and we share a wall. My cubicle, wall, teacher standing at the chalkboard. (The below visual provided by me and my amateur Paint skills.) There used to even be a door connecting the room to our office area, but nobody used it so it was taken out last summer. It was thought that without the door maybe we wouldn’t be able to hear what was going on in the classroom. Nice thought. But oh so wrong.

Pretty, I know.

We can hear everything. It doesn’t help that this classroom has somehow become the designated classroom for foreign grad students. So not only can I hear every word being said, often times they are words I don’t even understand.

Most days I can block it out; I can tune out enough that the professor sounds more like the Charlie Brown teacher than anything. But today. Oh no, today the teacher is yelling.


He’s speaking English, but there’s a translator in there too. So he yells, then a quieter voice echoes him in Japanese. It’s hilarious in a way, but it’s getting old already.

So that's all I've got...my short tale of Yelling Man, the geography teacher from hell. I promise the posts will pick up in frequency and non-lameness forthwith.

(Oh one last thing. Did I mention he’s teaching American geography? He just finished a thrilling monologue on the different areas of the US. I give you the following as a word-for-word example of how my workday is going: “WE ARE IN THE MIDWEST RIGHT NOW! CHICAGO IS LIKE THE CAPITAL OF THE MIDWEST! THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN AREA IS THE LEAST POPULATED! IT IS MOSTLY MOUNTAINS AND DESERTS AND DOESN’T HAVE AS MANY PEOPLE! AND NOW LET’S TALK ABOUT BORDERS! AMERICA IS BORDERED BY CANADA AND MEXICO! A LOT OF PEOPLE IN MEXICO TRY AND GET INTO THE US…” I wish I was kidding.)

UPDATE: A coworker has complained about the yeller to the Powers That Be. She says, "Does he think that speaking louder means he won't need the translator?" So far, he is still yelling, but we've moved on to discussing the American political system...yikes.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Trust your readers (or Sue will tell you stories of Clay Aiken)

There is a woman in my office, let’s call her Sue, who always has a story to tell. It’s usually about how she spent her weekend, or her arduous journey into the office. It can range from her amazing experiences with the Clay-mates (oh yes that’s right, the Clay Aiken fan club*) to how she slipped on the ice that morning (sometimes she falls, sometimes she doesn’t, always she doesn’t want to hear what you have to say about it, just listen).

I work in a fairly quiet office, so when people are talking, everyone can hear them. This is fine. And I don’t mind Sue's tales, really I don’t (they’re entertaining in an I-can’t-believe-she’s-actually-saying-that kind of way) but one telling is enough for me.

It is not, however, enough for her.

She tells every person she works with, as they come in, the Same Exact Story. Over and over. And, because of our lovely work environment, every person she’s already talked to, plus those of us (me) who don’t merit a direct telling, gets to hear it again. Over and over.

By 10 o’clock I’m usually reaching for my Ipod just to block her out and the guy in the cube next to me is banging his head on the desk.

This is not ideal.

The same can be said for writing. Everyone has their limits when reading a book—that thing that an author does that really irks you. That thing that makes you want to throw the book across the room—even if you’re loving the story/characters/voice/etc. That one thing can kill it all.

For my roommate it’s excessive description. It kills her when the author gets too carried away, painting each scene in meticulous detail. If it irks her enough she starts skimming through to the action. If that doesn’t work? Book, wall, thud. Next.**

For me it’s that dang dead horse.*** I can’t handle it when an author, like Sue, works so hard at getting a particular point across that it gets repetitive and annoying. It could be the character’s lack of confidence in her appearance (this one, in particular, drives me crazy) or the weirdness/evilness/aloofness of her parents, or the awesomeness that is her best friend.

I don’t mind if these things are in a story, far from it. But I find myself wishing the author would trust me, the reader, to get it. I don’t need to be told by the narrator each time her father is in a scene that he doesn’t understand her—put it in his actions, absolutely, but don’t state it in her head, again and again. Readers are smarter than that.

So I try (Keyword: TRY) in my own writing to avoid the redundancy. Sure, I am well aware that there are a few key points that I’ve been throwing in again and again in this first draft. And you better believe I’m going to get rid of them eventually.

But it’s a hard thing, trusting your reader. What if they don’t understand my character? What if they didn’t catch that hint? Should I throw in another one? Maybe just one more? It could go on forever. At some point you just have to take a breath, and let it go.

If you’re getting tired of writing about your narrator’s hatred of her curly red hair, your reader will probably be tired of hearing about it.

So maybe more than trusting your reader, you should trust yourself.

And feel free to tell Sue to just shut it already. We get it, Clay rocks.

*These days are the BEST days. *sigh*
**This is an exaggeration, as there is no actual book throwing. Though only because she reads on a Kindle.
***Stop beating it already!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Letter to a Stranger (or how I almost hit someone at Midway)

Dear Man in Front of Me in Line,

It's cold.

I agree, Chicago at midnight in January = cold.

I know this, you know this, the hundred and fifty people standing in front of us in this Taxi line know this. But really, it's not that cold.

Now, my irritation in your line-standing behavior may have something to do with my flight having been delayed two hours or landing at midnight when I know I have to get up for work tomorrow at 6am or the million other people who are, for some reason, trying to get a cab into the city. But I'm not thinking rationally at the moment.

So I'm just going to blame you.

Here is why:

1 . I can pretend to understand your desire to bundle up out here, (not really, because I'm standing behind you in an unzipped jacket and am Not Cold At All, but I'll let that go) but it would have saved a lot of time (and kept me from losing my mind) if you would have put on your scarf, gloves, hat, earphones, and ski mask* before coming out and getting into line.

2. That backpack you're carrying does not look very heavy. (Of course, I've got a computer bag slung across my back and a second carryon on my shoulder that are filled with books--heavy books**--so I might just be feeling jealous.) I'm curious about why you aren't taking advantage of the handy straps on that pack and wearing it on your back.

This is an only barely exaggerated account of your twenty minutes in line. (Also known as the twenty minutes in which you were nearly clubbed in the back of the head with a heavy book.)

You get in line. (I line up a second later thinking, "Damn, if I had just knocked down that slow couple in baggage I would be further up in line.") You set your backpack down. Take out your gloves. Put on one glove. The line moves. You pick up backpack, take a step, drop other glove, set backpack down, pick up glove, pick up backpack, pull luggage, move forward 4 steps.

You set down backpack (I start to feel the press of impending mental breakdown.) You put on other glove. Get out scarf. Line moves. (I bounce on my toes, "Move, move, you idiot," I think.***) You toss scarf over your shoulder, pick up backpack, take 4 steps forward, set down backpack, wrap scarf around your neck.

This pattern continues with your headphones, and your hat (which you also drop), and again with your scarf. (Seriously, we, the others in line, don't care how you're wearing your scarf. Over your jacket collar, under it, looped, knotted, draped, Stop Messing With It!) Can you see what I'm getting at? Irritating.

And when you are paired with the man behind me, who keeps mumbling "What's he doing? That idiot. Is there another line? What is he doing? *sigh* He's doing it all wrong..." about the airport employee who is organizing the person to taxi process, my brain is starting to bubble and boil and someone is gonna get clocked with these books.

But we are reaching the front of the line. You get in a taxi. I drag my stuff to a cab and the over-worked employee even loads my million pound rolling bag into the trunk for me. And all is good in the world again. (Minus the fact that it is now 12:30 and I won't be home till one and then I'll only get four hours of sleep. But this I cannot blame on you. Unfortunately.)

Also, I hope you overheat in your cab. Are you sweating? Bet you are.

Your truly,

*To be honest, there was no ski mask involved, but I wouldn't have been surprised if he had whipped one out. (Haha, whip it out.)
**It is a sign that you have a problem when you leave for vacation with 3 books and come back with 11. Oops.
***Again, I am aware that thinking that your slowness has anything to do with how long we'll be in line is irrational. There's nowhere to go, even if you are on your game. But still. My brain would like to blame you.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ready for a break (or, how Ashley is losing her mind!)

It’s the holidays. (No need to act surprised. I assume you already knew this.)

Christmas is a few days away, New Years after that. You’ve got a lot to deal with: family, friends, presents, eating too much, losing your marbles…all the normal end of the year stuff. More than anything, the holidays are a much needed break from life (with crazy relatives and family drama thrown in just so you don't get bored).

I need this break. Bad. Because, apparently, the long year has caught up with me and I’m now running on brain fumes.

Yesterday was one of Those Days. You know the ones. You trip while running up the stairs to the el, you forget to get off the bus, you miss your train completely…and that’s all before you even get to work!*

For those not “in the know,” I work part time as an editorial assistant for a science journal. *Snore* Anyway, the first hint that my brain had vacated the premises (à la Elvis) came at 9:15 am when I realized I hadn’t clocked in on my computer. Even though I had been at work for an hour, and even though I do this Every Day without fail. Not a big deal. My boss has to click a few things, pray to the online timesheet gods, turn around three times, and my hours will be fixed. Great. I forgot about it, chalked it up to lack of sleep.

Then the end of the day rolls around. I’m tired. I’m ready to get the heck out of this cubicle! So I clock off,** bundle up (scarf, gloves, giant coat, 180s), and walk out. Once I get outside I call my cousin—she asked me to babysit her two girls and I wanted to let her know that I was going to come straight from work. This is how our conversation went:

Me: Hey!
The Cuz: Hey, what are you doing?
Me: Leaving work!!
The Cuz: Uh, did you get off early today?
Me: *oblivious* Nope, I always get off at 3:30.
The Cuz: It’s 2:30.
Me: …


I could have sworn my clock said 3:30 when I left. But no. I left work early. An hour early. (This would have been fine, had it been intentional. But, of course, it wasn’t.)

Again, I say: oops.

I was only halfway to the train station. So I turned around, walked back into my office building, strolled past the security guard (yes, he gave me a weird look***), sulked into my boss’ office in my winter gear to tell her what I had done (She laughed. A lot.), stripped off all my layers, turned on my computer, and worked for another hour.

Apparently, I really need this holiday break! My brain has stopped working. It is like mush, sloshing around in my skull, useless, with a bad aftertaste and awkward texture to boot.

At first, I thought (as you might be too) that all this had nothing to do with writing. That this post was just a way for me to share my crazy with the world. But no, I have found a connection!

This past weekend (and by weekend, I mean Thursday through Sunday, as those are my days off****) I didn’t get much writing done. None, really. Between the making of a million chocolate peanut butter balls, holiday parties, and complete and utter laziness, I would say I got down maybe a thousand words. Maybe. And that’s a big decrease in productivity, friends. Yikes. I had actually planned on writing about “Making time for writing” before my brain melted, because it seems I need a reminder about how to keep myself motivated.

So, I’ve decided to blame all my mind-matter mush on not writing. Had I channeled my creative energy, flexed my brain, done something other than drink wine and watch Food Network over the weekend, I would not have been a worthless drone this week at work. And I would have been that much closer to finishing this draft.

Writing for me = higher brain function.

Lesson learned.

Note: Surprisingly, the Cuz was still willing to leave her babies with Crazy Ashy for a few hours. She either has a higher trust in my brainpower than I do...or she just really wanted out of the house.

*No, these things didn’t all happen to me yesterday. But I, um, may have experience with some of them…alright, all of them. (Let’s just say that commuting to work is…exciting?)
** I wasn’t going to forget this time! "Take that timesheet gods!" I say. (There may have also been a fist pump slash Molly Shannon Superstar pose involved.)
*** Though not half as weird as when I walked out again an hour later.
**** I know you’re jealous. You should be. Of course, take a look at my bank account and all that jealousy will disappear. It’s like magic.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lessons from Writers in Movies (or how a mug is not an external hard drive)

Sundays are a truly wonderful thing.* Sundays with Colin Firth are even better.

This past Sunday The Roomate and I did absolutely nothing. And it was awesome. We sat in the apartment and watched four movies while a blizzard turned everything outside our window white and frigid. I repeat…awesome.

Most people who know me know that I love movies. More broadly, I love stories. (Hence, the writing.) But for a few years I thought working in movies was the answer to that pesky little “what do you want to do when you group up” question. So I moved to LA after college and put in almost two years there-working on a few ABC Family-esque movies, suffering through the writer’s strike, and then stumbling into reality TV casting.** (This is a much longer story, best saved for The Future. For now, just know...Ashley hearts movies. Big.)

One of the movies we watched on Sunday was Love Actually. This movie rocks my socks on so many levels. We have Emma Thompson being her usual amazing self. Liam Neeson and the freaking cutest kid ever!*** The 'To me you are perfect' guy. And don’t get me started on the Hugh Grant dance. I die. (I think I'm getting all mushy in my old age. Not to worry, I'm still cynical about most things.)

But the most relevant and educational story line for us writers would be Colin Firth’s character, Jaime. He’s an author, he’s working on a first draft, he’s adorable.

(If you have not seen this movie, I’m going to need you to stop right now, go watch it, enjoy the amazing, then come back. We’ll wait.)

And now…I give to you, you wonderful people...****

Lessons from Writers in Movies.

(Mr. Darcy? *swoons*)

1. Find your own writing space

After his girlfriend cheats on him with his brother (poor Colin), our movie writer decides to pour his anguish into writing…in France. (Duh, where else would you go? Don't say Starbucks. You can think bigger than that.)

Now, most of us don’t happen to own quaint cottages in France. But the idea is the same. I can write anywhere, but sometimes (most of the time) I need to be in my own writing space. For me, it’s my desk. (Boring, I know.) It’s huge and beautiful and tucked away in a corner of my bedroom where I can close the door and ignore the outside world for a while. Of course, if any of you DO have a cottage in France, complete with lakeside gazebo, I’ll happily retreat there. I’ll even bring the wine.

2. Know your genre

When housekeeper/maker of tea/love of his life Aurelia asks***** what kind of book he’s writing, Colin doesn’t tell her that he’s writing a romantic young adult fantasy crime novel with dystopian elements. And you shouldn’t either. Pick one. Just one.

Also, making Psyco-like hand gestures (a la Colin) at the agent or friend your pitching, is probably frowned upon as well.

3. Back up your work (Colin, pay attention to this one.)

This is especially important when you’re writing on a typewriter. (Really, Colin. A typewriter?) But is just as important with your computer. (You know, the one that is sure to crash as soon as you type The End.) I don’t follow this advice as well as I should, but do as I say, not as I do.

Save that draft everywhere! (Email, disc, flash drive, hard drive, whatever.)

And if you are like Colin (and don’t you wish you were) do not, I repeat, DO NOT take the only copy of your first draft outside with you.

By the water.

With no rubberband. No paperclip. No folder.

For goodness’ sake, Colin. What. Were. You. Thinking.

And if you do decide to write outside. (This is not as nice when you're NOT in France.) And you do, for some looney tunes reason, take your loose-leaf, only-copy-in-the-world first draft out there with you. Do Not use your mug as a paperweight. What happens when you want to drink, Colin? It is windy in France.

(Also, wouldn't it be nice to have a writer assistant person to clean and cook for you while you work. Genius, Colin. Pure genius.)

If you don't know. Aurelia ends up moving the mug, the pages go flying, and then she strips down and jumps in the lake. Obviously.

(This scene, while amazing in all its eel-infested water gloriousness, makes me want to shake Colin Firth. Bad writer. Protect those words. And do not call it rubbish. Yes, I heard you say that. You may think it. We all do. But don’t say it out loud while that rubbish is flying towards the water! *headdesk*)

And that concludes today’s Lessons from Writers in Movies.

Thank you, Colin Firth, for the wonderful lessons. (And for being you.) (Also, I'm so excited for The King’s Speech…yay!)

What other lessons can we learn from Colin?

* That is, if you can forget the fact that they come before Monday. Stupid Mondays.
** Oh, the crazy!
*** “Worse than the total agony of being in love?” I mean, come on! Adorable.
**** Or just my mom. Who is wonderful, yes, but also probably the only one reading this. :) *****And by ask, I mean acts out with her hands. Since, you know, they don’t speak the same language. But they do speak the Language of Love! *sigh*