Snickerdoodle Muffins

Snickerdoodle Muffins036

Happy Labor Day weekend! A good time to bake. Although I already made these this week, so… a good time to buy baked goods? Anyway, the recipe I use for snickerdoodle muffins is “slightly modified” from this (basically you don’t need that much cinnamon sugar), and I have to say, these muffins are delicious. And then, of course, I’ve made my own slight modification: once the dough is prepared, the recipe tells you to roll an ice cream scoop’s worth in cinnamon sugar before placing it in your muffin tin. Instead of doing this, I do two or three smaller spoonfuls of batter per muffin cup, resulting in a cinnamon sugar ribbon through the muffin. I thought no one would notice this, but I was wrong. Apparently I’m not the only one who adores cinnamon.

Also different for me: this picture is of an unfinished project. I’d like to add some watercolor and ink, but I’m not sure what my color scheme is going to be yet, and I don’t know when I’ll figure it out. (And I’m afraid of ruining the sketch.) So instead, a glimpse into a work in progress.

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Accepting Change

*Warning: there are a couple references to “The Time of the Doctor,” so if you hate any kind of spoiler and haven’t seen that episode yet… um, you can read the doodle-comic. That’s spoiler-free. At least as far as Doctor Who is concerned.*

I just want to say right away that I have not seen Peter Capaldi’s first full episode as the Doctor. Blah blah, no access to BBC America, blah blah. I have no idea when I will see it. But it seems more than a little probable that when I do, I won’t like Capaldi in the role, or that I’ll be lukewarm/indifferent to him. This has nothing to do with his merits, and everything to do with the fact that I often resist change.

3 Months Later

My reaction to hearing a new song. I usually need some time to warm up to it.

For the record, Capaldi’s performance does seem to be a success so far. (Warning #2: there are spoilers in this link, though they are announced beforehand.) But basically, I’m the old version of the Doctor, looking at the new TARDIS, always saying, “I don’t like it.” It took me forever to warm up to Matt Smith, no doubt largely because Tennant was my Doctor, the one who got me interested in the show. I’m more prepared to like Capaldi, but I still wouldn’t be surprised to catch myself saying things like, “He’s fine, but I liked Matt Smith better.”

Knowing that, I can arm myself against it. As with new songs, I can outwait my knee-jerk “I don’t like it” response, and develop an opinion that’s (hopefully) based on the character of the thing rather than its contrast with my familiar universe.

I find it kind of odd that I have so much trouble with certain changes, where in other areas of my life, I love new things. I grow my hair long and then chop it all off. I seek out new life and new civilizations new foods, new restaurants, new places to explore.

Maybe the difference hinges on my definitions of “change” and “new.” Maybe to me, new implies options. The old thing is still there—I can go back to it any time. The new thing is simply added to the list. Change, on the other hand, means that the old thing is gone. I can’t get it back. The hairstyle won’t grow out; I can’t order my old favorite; I really can’t go home.

I don’t know if that’s true. But as the Eleventh Doctor reminded Clara, we’re all constantly changing. So it’s probably good to appreciate who you are today. You never know when you might have to say goodbye to that person. More likely, you won’t say goodbye. You’ll just be living your life when suddenly you realize how different you are. And perfect or not, the You of today has some awesome traits. Not to say Future You won’t, but that You’s awesomeness will be different.

As far as remembering who you used to be, as recommended by the Eleventh Doctor—this is the completely biased opinion of someone who collects and loves to write in notebooks, but you might consider some form of record keeping. Written, filmed, whatever. It’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to time traveling back to visit my past self.

And speaking of time travel (*clearing throat*), if anyone wants to tell me what they thought of Capaldi, I’d love to hear it. Without spoilers. I’ve established that I don’t personally mind them, but I don’t want anyone else to have to worry about them here.

Motivation

Motivation035

Know your motivation.

I really am quite tired this week, though, hence the simplified doodle-comic. I set the two-posts-per-week goal before I knew how much I would like putting pictures into blog posts. And how much work fancier pictures would entail. Perhaps I’ll revisit things at my two-month blogiversary.

I love celebrating.

Skimming Ahead

I used to be very adamantly “no spoilers.” At suspenseful moments, I would read with a straight edge to keep my eyes from jumping ahead. And as for reading the last page of a book first…

Past Me

In the past few years, though, something has changed. It started innocently enough, with quick skims ahead to find out when I would next see a favorite character. But it didn’t stop there. Now I’ll often be reading along more or less in order when suddenly…

Slam

Something horrible happens. My favorite character dies or is grievously hurt. A fundamental relationship is poisoned, maimed, or (perhaps only seemingly) shattered. And I can’t cope.

No no noToo traumatized to read, I put the book down and try to focus on other things. But I can’t. I’m too jittery. My thoughts keep spiraling around the awful thing that just happened.

DistractedBook Call

Finally I cave and return to the book. But I’m almost as much of a mess as the characters. I can’t concentrate on the words in front of me.Distracted ReadingSo I skim ahead. Just a little. Just to make sure things are going to be okay.

Unfortunately for my anxiety, that’s not the way plot usually works.

Not Better compare

That’s right. Sometimes things get worse.

Before I know it, I’m skimming ahead another chapter, and another, searching for that “things will be okay” moment, until…

What, you’ve never had a book laugh at you?

I used to feel guilty (well, guiltier) about skimming ahead. Then I blamed the books. Some stories, I noted, would put me straight into “no spoilers” mode; I wanted to experience things in real (reading) time. That seemed like a mark of authorial competency. And maybe it is. But you could also argue that a really good book will hold your attention even if you know how it’s going to end. After all, we do enjoy rereads and retellings.

Maybe it’s less about the quality of the book than what I want out of the reading experience. There seem to be two main ways that I enjoy the plots of books. One is suspense-based: what will happen next? The other is method-based: how will it happen?

Skimming doesn’t answer the second question, at least not in all its details, so there are still things to discover as I keep reading. What skimming does provide is some measure of comfort–either reassurance, or a chance to process and recover and maybe mourn (some books… man). And sometimes that’s what I need. Sometimes suspense doesn’t help me enjoy reading; it’s just stressful.

I’m not writing off the exhilaration of an unspoiled first read. In fact, it’s possible that one of the reasons I like skimming is that it doesn’t make me choose; it gives me that adrenaline rush in a more condensed, manageable form, followed by a slightly steadier reread.

While there is evidence that spoilers help people enjoy stories more, personally, I think it’s like tea. Sometimes I want my tea piping hot and comforting; I want to wrap my fingers around the mug and breathe in the fragrance before each sip. Other times, I want something bracing, that wreaks havoc with my pulse and makes me so dizzy I can hardly turn a page…

Maybe it isn’t like tea. But you get the point. Both approaches have advantages; it just depends on what you’re after. It does help if you know what you want, though. For example, if all I care about is finding out what happens, I shouldn’t skim; it will turn the full read into a trudge. (And I hate leaving books unfinished, so I will feel obligated to trudge.) If I’m equally interested in filling in the spaces between events, skimming is comparatively safe.

Bottom line: however you read, you’re reading. And you’re enjoying it. So don’t beat yourself up if it isn’t the way you’re “supposed” to read.

Especially because if you really engage with books, they’ll do the beating up for you.

Reading029

Does it matter what I look like?

My first instinct is to say “no.” After all, the words are what really matter, right? So when I set up my Twitter account, this was the image I decided to go with.

Face005

For all you know, I really look like this.

Profile picture solved. And this simple image represents a part of myself that I identify pretty strongly with; in my doodle-comics, the Face is my more creative, unfiltered side. It’s the side that says, “Twitter would be fun! And Tumblr! I have ideas for posts!” and then gets bored or scared five minutes into the project, leaving a handful of half-started ramblings for my more practical side to edit. In a sense, this is me–the writing/reading me, as I appear in the pages of my journals.

Then I found myself noticing other people’s Twitter profile pictures. A good profile picture won’t make me follow someone, and I don’t necessarily care if they have a head shot as their profile pic. But if they do have a picture of themselves, it feeds into my assessment of them. Do they look like nice people? People I would hang out with?

That made me think about profile pictures from the other side of the fence. Maybe what we look like shouldn’t matter, but we often have precious little to go by in this online world. And there’s something reassuring about a smiling face.

That wasn’t enough to make me post a photo of myself on Twitter, though, because frankly, I don’t want to see a photo of myself every time I log onto Twitter. But the challenge of drawing a new version of myself for my doodle-comics? That got my attention.

My first effort wasn’t exactly what I was looking for.

Sketch Me is evidently annoyed with Real Me.

Sketch Me is evidently annoyed with Real Me.

Aside from how displeased Sketch Me looks, I realized I was dealing with an outdated, inaccurate image of myself, somewhere between high school and never. I looked up different drawing styles, tried out some anime-type eyes, and then finally turned to a photo of myself. It was at this point that I realized that I didn’t even have my hair curving (curling is too generous a word) in the right direction.

Not even the most "realistic" one.

Not even the most “realistic” one.

I did some more sketching, trying to work with basic shapes–things I could draw relatively quickly, for doodling purposes. I continued to be dissatisfied with the eyes.

As Sketch Me gets increasingly tired.

As Sketch Me gets increasingly tired.

And then, finally, I caved and decided to try to draw my glasses. I wear glasses most of the time, but I never draw them on myself because I always figured they would be a pain. Now I looked at where my glasses sat on my face, and gave it a shot.

Table

That’s right. I use a Mac. But almost never a table.

And suddenly I had something I liked.

Suddenly the image on the paper matched my internal image of myself pretty well.

I copied it onto another page and added some color. Nothing too fancy; it will probably only be profile-picture sized, after all.

Finished

Since this post is sort of about what I look like: the part in my hair is actually on the other side, so this is more like Mirror Me than Real Me. The part’s also probably not that off-center. But I’m not changing it now.

Back to my original question: does what I look like matter? Maybe it shouldn’t, especially in a realm where the primary form of interaction is through words. But it obviously matters more to me than I thought, as evidenced by how finicky I got about my doodle self.

If anyone wants to weigh in: is this profile picture better than the one I started with? Do people’s profile pictures (or author photos) matter to you? And if so, why?

Bonus points if you can tell me what this picture reminds you of. The style makes me think of something, but I can’t figure out what. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries? Not quite… argh, I don’t know. (ETA: Anime/manga style seems to be part of it, but I’m not sure it’s the only influence, since the eyes are simpler than most of the anime-style eyes I’ve seen.)

Unrealistic Goals: The Fallout

I feel like I should write some kind of update following my last post. So here are the goals I set last weekend, and how they panned out:

  1. Finish novel draft. Didn’t finish by Sunday night. Did finish a few hours into Monday morning. This was before my self-imposed deadline, so I call it a win. Also I’m an owl, so it felt like part of the same day.
  2. Write blog post. Obviously check.
  3. Tumblr post. Totally did not do this. The perfectionist part of my brain hates that, but I’ll live.
  4. Actually leave the house. Yes!

Predictably, the biggest time drain was #3 #1. (Though it does sometimes seem that the thing you don’t finish takes the longest. In this case, I chose my battles and jettisoned the Tumblr post pretty early.) If you’re curious about what I learned, here are some things that worked for me (or didn’t):

  1. No: I lost a lot of sleep, pushing past the point where I would usually have been happy to turn in, because I was determined to write as much as I could before my brain turned to oatmeal. This probably influenced my productivity on subsequent days.
  2. Yes: I had an outline. I’m not always an outliner, but the outline was tremendously useful for this draft; being able to see where I was going helped me avoid getting stuck.
  3. Yes: I revised my outline as I worked, to reflect changes/surprises. That meant my outline was a pretty accurate summary of what I had as well as what came next.
  4. Yes: I took breaks when I needed them. I wasn’t about to kill myself for this. On a similar note, I didn’t set a lot of rules for myself. As I said in my other post, I had some material to pull in from previous (incomplete) drafts; I sometimes read through that and edited it, sometimes not so much. I didn’t bother tallying up how many new words I typed each day, though I know it was a lot. Basically I did what I could to keep my stress levels low.

I can’t guarantee that any of this will work for you. Patricia C. Wrede has a great post about different kinds of writers; we all thrive on different methods. All I can say is that this got me what I wanted: my first complete draft, over 50,000 words, with no scenes to fill in later. (Scenes to flesh out: definitely. But no blanks.)

Despite my love of ripping through drafts at high speeds, I didn’t find this the most enjoyable way to write a novel. Typing until you fall asleep at the keyboard is fun when you’re doing it on pure inspiration. It’s less fun when you refuse to let yourself sleep because dang it, you’re determined. But on the plus side, at the end of three days, you have a novel. If you’re lucky, you’re pleased with the draft, proud of yourself, and for once in your life, actually ready to rest for a while before jumping into revisions. Which brings us to a last note.

5. Yes: I knew I had a low-key week coming up. Was thus able to spend it recovering.

Note to self: As much as you may think otherwise, sleep is not optional. If you’re going to demand a truckload of work from yourself, your body is going to demand rest. Grant this demand. Just do.

I'd like to do some fancy hand lettering with this, but it makes me sleepy.

I’d like to do some fancy hand lettering with this, but it makes me sleepy.

 

Unrealistic Goals

I set a lot of them. If you want to see my take on unrealistic vs. realistic goals and staying sane, skip to the end of the post. There is a point to this. I know because I tripped over it as I was finishing up.

As for why I’m thinking of unrealistic goals today: no, it’s not because of my plan to post here twice a week, thank you very much. That would normally be doable (I think). But this week my words have been going into story, with good reason. I’m trying to finish a novel.

“Didn’t you just finish a novel draft?” you might very reasonably ask. And yes, I did. But it’s usually good to take some time off between drafts, and I’m using that time to work on something else.

It started off innocently enough. The draft was partially done, since it had been a fun “work on it whenever I feel like it” project for a while. All I had to do was tidy it up and add some stuff. (*Cough.* Tens of thousands of words.) I wanted to do this in a week, which was a bit of a stretch, but manageable.

I procrastinated. A lot. Suddenly I was facing the weekend, with my draft maybe slightly over halfway done. “More of a stretch, but still manageable,” I figured. When things are going really well, I can write over 10,000 words a day, so I can finish a novel in a week. But before you hate me, I don’t mean I can blithely knock out 15,000 words a day, sitting at my computer with a glass of wine held lazily in one hand. I mean if I do nothing but type, giggle maniacally, and type some more–if I barricade myself in the house, barely stop to eat, and essentially live in the world of my story, I can write quite a lot.

There is absolutely a degree of burnout from writing that much that quickly, and it’s not as if it produces first drafts perfect enough to make unicorns cry. But I still love those crazy weeks, when I can get them. Every writer is different, and I’m extremely grateful to be the kind of writer I am. Most of the time.

This was not a crazy writing week. Which was fine. I figured I could finish the draft next week instead. There was no rush.

Then something came up, and now all of a sudden my brain is saying, “No. This weekend.”

So here’s my unrealistic goal list for Saturday and Sunday.

  1. Finish novel draft. Never mind that I just drew up a new outline last night/early this morning, and I’m only about 10,000 words into the current version. Some of the stuff from the old draft is still usable. I can totally do this.
  2. Write blog post. (Ha! Take that, goal list.)
  3. Tumblr post. Which probably means drawing something. Or finding something in the sketchbook that I don’t mind posting.
  4. Actually leave the house.

There’s a part of my brain that’s  done some math and determined that there are not enough hours for me to accomplish all these goals. But the odd thing is that even though I can see those calculations, the rest of my brain remains optimistic about my chances. I’m not even worried enough to rush. In fact, I may take a nap.

Now would be the time to say something about the importance of setting realistic goals, I guess. And it is important. Constant failure is extremely depressing. A lot of times, I consciously pare down my goals to a realistic level. But that can be depressing, too–seeing a giant goal turn into something “realistic.” There’s no adrenaline connected to it, no ambition. Maybe because to me, “realistic” means “something I know I can accomplish,” and how much triumph can I really squeeze out of that?

So here’s to the importance of unrealistic goals. I think part of the key to setting unrealistic goals and being happy with the results is just that: knowing they’re unrealistic, and celebrating whatever progress you make toward achieving them. Not fake celebrating, either. Genuinely celebrating that you did something awesome.

And if you reach the goal, so much the better.

With that, I’m off to finish the novel.