Sunday, October 23

Good morning!

14732163_10157783919235393_8587847069434131422_n

Here is my book: The Disappearing Spoon

Here is my breakfast: coffee and baguette tartine at Eric Kayser (pictured)

Let’s sit down at the table:

My friend Shelley was here to visit Wednesday-Friday. We watched the third and final debate in my living room, complete with #hottoddiesforhillary. On Thursday, the Eric Kayser on 74th, where I have had breakfast almost every weekend morning since I moved to New York three years ago, reopened after a fire five months ago. Although at first I didn’t enjoy the disruption to my routine, the closure did help me branch out with my neighborhood breakfast options.

I have a cold this weekend, so I’ve been staying in reading, writing and editing, and catching up on all the TV I’ve missed in the past week.

Happy Sunday!

On Writer’s Block

img_1003

My friend posted a status on Facebook asking for fellow NaNoWriMo participants to form an accountability group. I sporadically attempt NaNoWriMo– well, I do my modified version of NaNoWriMo, which really means that I cheat– so I scrolled through the comments. Someone mentioned that she had a great idea, but chronic writer’s block. Which got me thinking about how I might solve writer’s block on my own projects.

As I’ve mentioned rather recently, I try to write 250 words every day, which is one good way to keep going when you’re hitting the wall.

There are a lot of opinions about writer’s block. To oversimplify, the “butt in chair” school tends not to believe in it; the “muse” school does. My thoughts fall somewhere in between. I believe in writer’s block, but I think that timing can lie at the root of the issue. If you keep hitting your head against a wall, you start to ask “why?”

Sometimes an idea– even a great idea– is not yet ready. It needs to marinate for a little while longer. It needs another element. It needs a different narrator, a switch from first to third person, a plot twist, a transition from A to C.

I come across this problem all the time in my own writing. I’m a longform writer. I like novels; I like television. But even long projects come from a single germ of an idea. I once wrote a novel from a title. I’ve written from a line of dialogue, from an image, from a scene. I’ve finished these projects. But there are a lot of ideas I’ve had that sit in a notebook. I let them rest. Sometimes, another idea pairs with them down the road.

Here is how I write. Everyone has a different process; everyone should have a different process. (Additional strategies for combatting writers block that I do not use will be detailed below).

I need to know where a story is going before I get into it. I’m a planner, not a pantser. If I don’t have an outline for where the story is going, I get stuck, usually around the 1/3 or 1/2 mark.

When I have an idea I want to play with or a premise that I love, I allow myself to write 5,000 words with no guarantees. By the time I hit 5,000 words (which falls anywhere between 1 and 3 chapters), I force myself to write an outline.

I start slowly with novels. My word count per session grows the closer I get to the end. By then I know my characters, I know what’s happening, and I’m exhilarated by the final act. So while I write my 5,000 words, I’m usually jotting down notes. Plot points, scenes, characters, great lines I need to jam in somewhere. By 5,000 words I take a step back. I spread out my notes and figure out how to structure this novel. I make a chapter-by-chapter outline– not extensive, anywhere from one line to a paragraph about the action in each chapter or the problem it needs to solve–just something that I can look at when I get stuck. I don’t always stick to the outline; often, my best plot twists are the ones even I don’t see coming.

My brain thrives on structure. I like to think I can inflict structure on any chaos. Every time I start something new, I believe that my idea is so sound, it’s going to fall into place flawlessly.

A lot of the time, I fall flat on my face.

The outline has a way of pointing out flaws.

I’ll give you a couple examples.

  1. I was writing a YA novel about a girl who decides to carry out her dead sister’s bucket list. It pains me to admit that I thought this was a fantastic idea. The first two chapters flew out, but I started to get stuck on the third. I had some notes: characters to introduce, bucket list items to check off. Then I spent three weeks promising myself to write an outline. I couldn’t get past chapter five. I knew my three acts; I knew the climax and resolution of each one, but I couldn’t fill in the middle. I couldn’t come up with more bucket list items that would fit into the story. And after three weeks, I admitted that I needed to put it aside. I would have another idea. And I did.
  2. I’d been playing with an idea based on a short news article about a dead body in the LA River (which is not strictly a river). I wrote a great prologue/first chapter. Really. I remain immensely proud of that page. Then I tried to figure out the rest. I had a couple characters, some ideas for who this man was, how he ended up there, but it just wouldn’t gel. I decided to let it sit and hope that it would untangle in my mind. Months later, I had a breakthrough. I had the wrong main character; it needed to be told from two perspectives. I was energized, but as I tried to parse it out, I became stuck again. Someday, I think, it’ll work out. But for now I’m moving on to other things.

This is why I have a rule: if I can’t make an outline work after some serious effort, the novel isn’t ready. And that is okay. Ideas take nurturing. You have to trust them to grow.

I think that a lot of writer’s block can come from not being ready or from being scared. You need to know when to push through and when to rest.

Here are some other ideas for writers block:

  1. Try working on the most vivid scene in your head. Even if you’re working in order. The more you exercise the writing muscle, the more in shape you get.
  2. Write about your day. The logistics, thoughts, feelings, your plans for tomorrow. The story doesn’t need to spring from your imagination, but it will get your brain thinking about writing.
  3. Take a walk. Listen to music. I like to get into my Spotify Discover playlist. Go through a few songs. Sometimes I challenge myself to pick a random song and imagine a scene around it.
  4. Read a book. Copy down a page you really like. What do you love about it?
  5. Don’t write. Seriously. If you’ve been trying and hitting the wall for several days, take a couple days off, then come back to it. Sometimes taking a step back is what you need.

I hope this is helpful. Do you have any tips for combatting writer’s block?

Sunday, October 16

Good morning!

IMG_8880.JPG

Here is my book: The Disappearing Spoon and And Then There Were None

Here is my breakfast: cappuccino and croissant from Shakespeare & Co.

Come join me at the table.

Last week was mostly calm, which I appreciated after the last two weeks ran me ragged. I didn’t make plans; I didn’t attend any events; I went to work and came home.

On the recommendation of my coworker, I started watching Younger, which is set in publishing. I’m really enjoying it so far, even if one character’s title as “junior editor” is driving me crazy.

A friend is coming to stay with me for a couple days this week, which means that today is dedicated to cleaning and tidying the apartment (switching out my closet included).

Happy Sunday!

Kait

 

250 Words a Day

img_0778

Photo from 2012, taken at my favorite table at Les Deux Magots

I am a person who loves lists. When I feel overwhelmed, I write down everything I need to do in 10-15 minute increments. It calms me down. Makes me feel like I am accomplishing something. Makes me feel like I have a plan.

Today, for instance, I wrote that I would work on this post at 8:15. So here it is, 8:15 and I am parked on the couch with my laptop.

I make lists for everything, but my favorite list is the one I devise every year for my birthday. New Year’s Resolutions have never worked for me; monthly resolutions seem short-sighted. But I wanted a way to track what I accomplished in any given year in line with my goals. I have one item for every year of my life. This year, I’m working on my 25 at 25 (I started this several years ago, inspired by this 101 in 1001). Most of the goals are arbitrary, and I usually figure out which during the course of the year (how important is it to me to visit every New York City borough? Do I really need to learn how to make five cocktails?), and if I’m really honest, I usually don’t achieve the majority of them. It feels like failing every March.

I have recurring items on the list; I just keep writing them down until they happen. I read a certain number of recreational books every year; I (try to) write in my journal weekly (I’m lucky if I manage monthly).

This year, I have a new addition as item two: to write 250 words every day. This works out to 1,750 words a week and 91,250 words a year. But the goal is to manage to get 250 words down every single day, no matter what.

It worked really well from March-June. Then I got busy in July, and I got tired in August, and overwhelmed in September. But it seemed fine, because from March to June of this year, I’d written about 50,000 words. I was well on track to my yearly goal.

I’ve always loved to write; like most people, I found publishing and editing by writing. But last year, I felt like I was struggling to get things down. Writing became a slog. I put a post-it up at my desk at work that reads, one word in front of the other. And I thought, if I can do that every day, I could easily write a novel-length project every year.

I chose 250 words because it seemed manageable. That word count is small when I can devote a day to working on a larger writing project (I’m partial to novels), but it’s something I can achieve even when I’m swamped with work. Even on my most blocked days, I can knock out 250 words in 15 minutes.

Somehow, I still fell off the wagon.

This month, I’m recommitting to writing 250 words a day. It doesn’t matter if it’s on this blog (can check that off today!) or in my journal or on one of my other two major writing projects. Writing 250 words a day is about discipline. It’s not really about how quickly I can knock out a project or how many words I can write in a year. It’s not even about writing anything good. It’s about sitting down and doing the work every day. Forming a habit. Making it essential. Making time.

Back in college, I took a creative writing class with Richard Powers. We had a meeting to discuss one of my stories in his office. He knew two major things about me: that I wanted to be a book editor and that I wanted to write novels.

He asked if I had a daily writing routine. I said I didn’t. I was a college student. I wrote when I had the time (which, in retrospect, was often). No, I didn’t write every day, but I could finish a novel project in a year. That seemed good enough.

The conversation nagged at me over the years. To do anything you care about, you need to prioritize, and you need to make it routine. So this year I decided to do just that.

I still don’t have the kind of daily writing routine he was referring to. I don’t write from 5:30-6:30 every morning or from 8-9 every night; I fit in my 250 words whenever I can. But there’s always my 26 at 26 (eek!) next year.

And if you have any tips for habit-forming, please let me know!

 

 

 

Sunday, October 9

Good morning!

IMG_8876.jpg

Here is my breakfast: a croissant and cappuccino from Shakespeare & Co. cafe

Here is my book: submissions. I’m forgoing a recreational book today in favor of work.

Come join me at the table.

This week was exhausting. So exhausting, in fact, my body crashed yesterday. Monday, I attended a book party in Soho. I was going to type, “it was one of those parties where you think, whoa, is this my life?” but that was pretty much my entire week. Tuesday, I had choir rehearsal, which was mainly devoted to rehearsing for the next night’s performance. On Wednesday, my choir performed at the Park Avenue Armory gala, where we sang backup for Patti LuPone, among others. She performed “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” from Anything Goes, a song that I love, and I was so excited to sing with her. I found her great to work with. If you’d told me even six weeks ago that I’d be singing backup for Patti LuPone, I would have laughed. Because who really expects crazy opportunities like that to fall in one’s lap? To round out my crazy week, I attended a fundraiser Thursday night, held at an apartment at the El Dorado with insane views overlooking Central Park and south.

It was an amazing week, but I’m really looking forward to this upcoming week in which I do absolutely nothing of note (which hopefully means I can clean my apartment).

Happy Sunday!

The Breakfast at Tiffany’s Party

I can’t remember exactly why I decided to throw the first Breakfast at Tiffany’s party. It was August, and I was about to start my sophomore year of college, and it had seemed like a waste to let Truman Capote’s birthday party go by without a party. I handwrote invitations, asked people to dress up, and prepped my dorm room for a cocktail party. Because back in college, a cocktail party was exotic. Twenty-five people crammed into my tiny dorm room. My room was in the basement. Exposed pipes ran along the ceiling. We didn’t care. Most of my friends adhered to the theme; the guys from my freshman dorm showed up in flannel. I hosted the party as Holly Golightly. We had an amazing time.

I was abroad junior year, so I waited until senior year to throw the party again. This time, I held it in the living room of French House. More people showed up. Everyone dressed according to the theme.

For a long time, I dreamed about throwing a Breakfast at Tiffany’s party in New York. After all, this is where the book and movie are set. But it took until now to have the space. So last Friday, on the 92nd anniversary of Truman Capote’s birth, I hosted my first Breakfast at Tiffany’s party in my New York apartment.

It didn’t disappoint.

img_8709

In preparation for the party, I finally had the paintings I’d had laying around the apartment for months hung. I scattered my Capote memorabilia– first editions, a Breakfast at Tiffany’s poster, Tiffany & Co. catalogs– throughout the apartment. I spent a couple evenings baking what I called “breakfast-inspired desserts” aka maple bacon biscuits, cornflake-chocolate chip-marshmallow cookies, and lemon cornmeal muffins (my doorman refers to them as “cupcakes”).

img_8717

As usual, I dressed up as Holly Golightly. Cat was a Christmas present from my parents; he came with the poster at left. I’m particularly pleased that he comes from FAO Schwartz. He’s a real New Yorker, having been forced from his home due to sky-high rents.

img_8748

Friends from all different parts of my life showed up to fête the occasion. At least three friends had gone to the parties in college, but most hadn’t. I had friends from kindergarten, friends from high school, friends from college, friends from work, friends made living in New  York. It was sort of surreal to see them all together.

img_8742

My friend Nico was there for the first incarnation of my Truman Capote obsession, back when we were carpooling to choir together and I used to read Capote short stories out loud for the entire duration of our half-hour commute. Thank you, Nico, for still being my friend. I promise not to make you listen to “A Mink of One’s Own” ever again.

img_8754

My friends’ dog Bradley was the star of the evening. He was also terrified of Cat. He didn’t quite understand the concept of a stuffed animal, and the plastic eyes freaked him out. He eventually came around.

img_8779

Bradley and Cat face off.

img_8838

Flying Tiger, a Danish chain with a store near my apartment, had a package of 16 of these party props– glasses, mustaches, accessories, etc.– for $4. I’m pretty sure it is the best $4 I have ever spent. They will continue to make appearances at various functions at my apartment.

img_8847

We couldn’t let the night pass without an attempt at recreating that famous photo. Four people art directed this shot, probably because I don’t know how to hold a cigarette– even one that is actually a novelty party straw.

All in all, it was a fabulous night– the perfect way to ring in the first September 30 in my (somewhat) new apartment.

For me, Breakfast at Tiffany’s the book has always been about belonging. About finding a place in the world, about finding your people, about belonging somewhere, even if you don’t quite recognize it at the time. So it was really amazing for me to have a tribe of friends to come celebrate. Not all of them are die-hard Capote fans, not all of them have read the book or even seen the movie, but I am so grateful they humor me every year.

See you September 30, 2017!

xo Holly

Sunday, October 2

Good morning!

img_8870

Here is my book: The Fever by Megan Abbott (really, this week!)

Here is my breakfast: coffee and a homemade maple bacon biscuit (recipe from the Huckleberry cookbook)

How can it possibly be October? It seems like just yesterday August turned to September. It was warm in New York for much of September, but in the past week or so it’s turned cool. It rained most of last week. I pulled out my fall (but not yet winter) coats. I’m typing this from my terrace, wearing a cashmere sweater, staring at the small pumpkin perched on my patio table; it is not quite 60 degrees.

I spent most of last week preparing for my Breakfast at Tiffany’s party Friday night, which seemed like a big success. Wednesday, I had a handyman come and hang art on my walls, which have remained bare for six months. The apartment looks totally different with art; it feels warmer and lived in and more mine.

On Thursday, I had drinks with my cousin Joe, who was visiting for a work trip, at Spyglass, a rooftop bar at the top of the Archer Hotel. They had great drinks and a fantastic view of the Empire State Building just four blocks south.

After relaxing yesterday, I’m back to work reading submissions and preparing for the week ahead today.

Have a wonderful Sunday!

Kait