Saturday, April 12, 2014

I should write a book

I have been doing a lot of soul-searching lately. And by soul-searching I mean doing a fuck ton of hemming and hawing.
We’ve all said it at some point. I should write a book. That would make a great book. Ohmigodz, that would totes be a bestseller.

There are a lot of reasons to write a book. Creative expression. Truly brilliant ideas. A love for words. And then there are reasons not to write a book, including the often unheeded fact that most of us don’t know shit about novel-writing and are prone to believing we could give Aretha Franklin a run for her money if only we invested a bit of time into the effort. 
Oh, sure you could, honey. source

For me, it has never been much of a question that I would write a novel, someday. I was the sort of child that told herself stories for entertainment, who bored her mother with endless tales about her stuffed animals, who even got herself into word-processing when she really should have stayed away from that for a long, long while. I spent hours hunting and pecking at the computer, until I learned to type and poured out stories like I was on my deathbed. There were too many stories to choose, too many characters to follow and get to know, too many plotlines to resolve. And all the while, I daydreamed of finishing a nice, beautiful little novel, all perfectly packaged within two covers and slipped into a bookshelf. Published. Professional. Probably a bestseller, with wild acclaim from critics everywhere.
Now, I don’t pretend to be some sort of creative genius, some sort of prodigy. The stories I wrote were pure shit—no better than what you would expect from an eight-year-old. Recently, I returned to one of the stories I had hidden away on my hard drive and was astonished to rediscover the 48,000 words I had written over the course of a few years as a young, innocent teeny-bopper. It was an entertaining read; the story is still sharp in my mind, unchanged, but the prose (if you could call it that) with which I wrote was absolutely vile. The beginning of the story reads “This document was begun November 9th, 2009” and without a breath proceeds with glaring verbosity (a trait I still haven’t shaken, I’ll admit) and clumsy sentences of the worst sort.
From page 2: “I gave him a surprised look. He seemed pleased with my reaction.” (This is from a scene in which I innocently describe what sounds like a rape, even though I had no idea of the potential innuendo at the time.)
From page 6: “I caught tons of fish, so about seventy percent of tonight’s meal could have credit given to me. There are six other fishers, and I, even though I am the youngest, am the superior of them all!”
From page 17: “‘Ow’  I said, my heart leaping into my throat.”
From page 18: “‘Unuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhhhggggghhhh…” I opened my mouth just a tiny bit. Just a tiny bit was enough to get the word out. Then I closed it and fell back asleep.”
And so on, for 45 painful, single-spaced pages. It is amazing to think that, at the time, I thought I was writing the stuff of literary genius. Of course, five years from now I will probably look back on this blog post as one of the low points of my creative life—it’s all just experience. But the present me is duly impressed with the eagerness of the past me, her unstoppable desire to finish, to produce a novel; even if I could not tie up a single plotline or develop a single character after 48,000 words. The story was there, but the execution was not.
Now, I am writing another novel.
I have been writing this novel for about five years now, from its conception to its present form, but I have never completed more than about 20,000 words—and those 20,000 words were pure and utter crap. But I have taken so many steps towards completion. I’ve sketched out the entire plot, if a bit vaguely. I’ve filled out a map of the fantastical world the story shall inhabit. I’ve designed characters, considered literary elements, added subplots and layers and thought about all the wonderful philosophizations my characters will have about the nature of humanity and the world. All that, and magic.
Yeah. Magic, bitch.
But I am having second thoughts.
There are plenty of other books in the world. One could spend a lifetime reading classics penned by now-dead authors and not have to even consider picking up the latest Twilight or Daniel Steel paperback. The publishing market is shrinking, as print publishers drop like flies and self-publishing swells close to the brim of what is tolerable. Only big-name authors and lucky one-time flukes sell well, much less reach the bestseller list. Anyone can write a book, and as such, no one can.
Why take the time and care out of one’s day to write something that no one will likely ever read? Why spend hours agonizing over plot holes and prose irregularities when the best literature has already been written and sold? Why build a complex fantasy world when it will never be as grand or as memorable as those of classic novels? Why indeed—it is a futile effort, no matter how you spin it.
And even if I did write this mediocre book, it would not do any good for humanity. I like science. I have a future in that field; I’ll probably live out my days in a lab, writing reports and running models and talking about climate change. In the long run, scientific pursuits—even humble, obscure ones—will benefit our world much more than a silly novel that nobody needed or asked for.
Who knows what I could miss out on by writing? Who knows what opportunities I might miss by obsessing over a private project at the loss of science fairs, of studies, of extracurricular resume-boosting research projects?
Writing is an indulgence. Something very unnecessary and very, very self-centered.
And yet, I think I should write that book.
I might not know what I have to lose by writing, but neither do I know what there is to gain. Who knows what I could learn about writing, about myself? Who knows how well a person can write novels unless they try? Who knows—something magical and amazing and groundbreaking might happen. Maybe this novel is something special; maybe it was meant to be.
So I’m gonna try. I will take a step back, and launch myself head-on into this novel. I don’t know what will happen, or how it will turn out, or whether my efforts really are futile; but I’m sure as hell gonna try. 
Insert inspirational quote here. source

I imagine you are quite sick of me, yet again. But never fear—a recipe is here!
What is that? A carb?
Novel-writing is quite a difficult task (not that I would know), so the writer needs sufficient fuel to ensure they make it to the finish. As such, I have included basic instructions for some delicious (animal-free) writer fuel to power up those words and let them rain all over the page.
Writers are famous for their patronage of coffee shops. But who needs a coffee shop when you can enjoy delicious beverages and pastries right in the comfort of your home warm, cozy bed?
The following concoctions are very simple—a rich, delicious mocha so easy it hardly even needs a recipe, and some relatively healthy American-style scones to nibble on the side. 
Although they might be too healthy to be called American.
Here's hoping the double hit of sugar works. 

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Mocha hot chocolate
Ingredients
Strong brewed coffee
Nondairy dark chocolate, finely chopped or dark chocolate chips
Soy milk or coconut cream
Directions
Place any amount of coffee in a saucepan and heat until bubbles begin to form around the edges. Put heat on low. Pour in a little bit of milk (or coconut cream, which I imagine would be awesome) to reach your desired coffee color. One handful at a time, add chocolate and stir to melt completely. Continue until the coffee is a rich chocolate color. Be sure to taste the coffee as you add the chocolate to achieve the desired flavor. If you would like, add a tiny pinch of sea salt. Serve piping hot to caffeine-and-sugar-starved writers.
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Peanut butter date scones
Adapted from the New York Times
Ingredients
150 grams ● whole wheat flour ● 1 ¼ cups
62 grams ● all-purpose flour ● ½ scant cup
40 grams ● oatmeal ● 1/3 cup
10 grams ● baking powder ● 2 teaspoons
5 grams ● baking soda ● ½ teaspoon
40 grams ● brown sugar ● 3 tablespoons
3 grams ● salt ● scant ½ teaspoon
40 grams ● peanut butter, chilled in the refrigerator for a few hours ● 5 tablespoons
30 grams ● Earth Balance, softened ● 2 tablespoons
125 grams ● soy milk (or other nondairy milk) ● ½ cup
7 grams ● lemon juice ● ½ tablespoon
4 grams ● vanilla extract ● 1 teaspoon
74 grams ● dates, finely chopped or other dried fruit ● ½ cup packed
Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment. Combine milk and lemon juice and let stand for a few minutes.
Combine flours, oatmeal, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Add peanut butter and softened butter spread and mix with your hands just until incorporated. Add milk mixture and dates and mix gently until a dough forms.
Using your fingers, roll out about eight large balls of dough into roughly circular flat balls. Use your judgment—it doesn’t have to be precise. Place the pieces on the baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes, or until browned on the bottom. Smother in strawberry jam like your life depends on it. Nosh. 
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Witness, an astounding transformation.

The mocha hot chocolate recipe is quite easily adaptable. Substituting milk for coffee, you could add anything from peppermint extract to cayenne pepper (but not both—my god that would be revolting) to make a unique concoction. Orange zest. Cinnamon and cloves. Almond extract. Ginger. Maybe even a curry blend, for a savory-sweet mashup. You are only limited by what your tastebuds can handle.
And I do dare say hot cocoa pairs perfectly with a scone and a blank page.

Hot cocoa, you will always make me feel this way.

10 comments:

  1. Ooh, I have to try that hot cocoa/coffee drink - sounds delicious. Not the scones, though - I have my mother's wartime scone recipe and refuse to bake anything but (they are that good - and have fond memories attached).

    Good luck with the novel - looking forward to your updates as you dive into the crazy-ass world of writing and publishing! I, too, have told lies - er, written stories since I could hold a pencil. And that novel I wrote back in high school on yellow legal paper (yep, I'm old - no word processor and couldn't afford a typewriter on my allowance), still have it and still read it every now and then - not only to remind myself of how far I've come (hopefully), but also to remind myself of how much I love to tell stories!!!

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    1. Thanks so much! Yes yes you must try the hot cocoa, it is dangerously delicious and easy. And you are right, it is always fun to look back on one's old writings (even if it is a bit cringe-inducing). :D

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  2. Hey June!

    I haven't been following your blog for long (I clicked over and subscribed after you left that incredibly kind comment on my post last month) and I just wanted to leave a comment here because I think you're so talented! You obviously have a way with words and your posts are hilarious. Good luck with your writing, even if the publishing world may be shriveling, it sounds like writing a novel is still something which is definitely worthwhile - especially if you enjoy it. :)

    I'm liking the idea of your writer's fuel. I might have to follow suit and make me some peanut butter date scones for 'revision fuel' a.k.a. procrasti-baking, haha.

    Izy

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    1. Oh my gosh, thank you so much. I am speechless.
      You probably wouldn't want to make my little scones though, as they wouldn't be up to your standards. :) I love your blog by the way, so thank you for the inspiration!

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  3. Oh wow, I just had to sort through a WHOLE lot of papers from my childhood a few months ago and also found manymanymany pages of "what was I thinking?" material ... Granted, for me those childhood papers are from a looong time ago... You get to a place (when you're old like me) where they are far more endearing than they are traumatizing. I admire your confidence! Good luck with the writing.

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    1. Thanks so much! I'm glad you can relate.

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  4. Hah! Turns out you are writing a book, you go girl!
    Seriously though, it doesn't matter whether people will read it or not, because the feeling of holding the story that you wrote in your hands is...pretty cool :)
    I once tried to work on a fantasty novel, wrote about 80 or so pages. It was a good stury overall, I just needed a plot (you'd think I'd have one 80 pages in, right?) and an idea of how to wrap it all up. Instead, I ended up putting together a little collection of poems that I have been writing over the last 8 years.
    I hope you get to finish writing the book, creating new places, characters that you end up caring about (sad as it might sound, it's true!). There are some self-publishing sites online which might be worth looking into :) I myself went through blurb.com (stupid name, user-friendly page that actually doesn't confuse the hell outta me, a bit pricey but quick with printing and delivering).

    I'm looking forward to hopefully hear more about it :) x

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    1. Thanks so much! Once I signed up for Smashwords and published a dumb little short story to give to my close family members for Christmas. It was mostly just so they could download it onto their devices and say, oh look June wrote a book! :D Though hopefully someday I will write a serious novel. :)

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    2. I really hope you do :D And if anything, you could even write a cook book, that'd be amazing :D x

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    3. Now that would be a weird cookbook! But thanks! :)

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