Anthea

(Don’t) Write Every Day…

Something isn’t working…

Why do I write?

Well, because it’s fun. It’s also a skill I would like to parlay into a viable income stream at some point, but mainly because it’s an activity that I find enjoyable.

So if I’m not having fun, it probably means I’m doing something wrong!

“Write every day.”

When I Googled those words to pull up some quotes, I actually found about an equal split between articles advising to write every day and articles explaining why you shouldn’t take that advice to heart. At some point, I internalized that advice, that idea that the best way to be a writer, the best way to get better, the best way to actually produce finished stories, was to write every day.

And yet… every time I dedicate myself to writing every day, I gradually (or not so gradually) find it more and more of a slog, find the writing more and more forced and uninspiring, and eventually stop. Sometimes for months. And I always berate myself for it, and wonder why. Why can’t I do this simple thing that “real” writers do?

Well, because that’s just one way of being a writer. Continue reading

Writing Styles…

Happy Halloween!

Yeah, sure you'll write a novel. Now where's my food?Also, happy NaNoWriMo eve! In less than six hours, the month-long novel-writing extravaganza begins, and I’m going to join in again. Being on the cusp of this endeavor has me thinking about how to approach the challenge, so here are a few thoughts on writing styles.

Plotting?

Many discussions of writing style divide writers into “plotters” and “pantsers” (who write by the seat of their pants), though it seems to me that even the most meticulous plan begins with an idea that wasn’t planned, and the most seat-of-your-pants story – if it succeeds as a story rather than a stream-of-consciousness ramble – is informed by an understanding of plot. It’s just a question of how much of each element you need in order to engage the bits of your psyche that make writing the story possible. Some people engage their writing brains through planning, some through habits that approach ritual, some through gripping the plot threads tight, and some through letting go.

I’m still trying to find where my sweet spot is, in terms of novel writing.

Some of the approaches I’ve tried:

Simple outlining – saying “this happens, then that” and then writing out each item on the list. Did not work for me at all – I outlined out a fun story, but then couldn’t write it. The creative part of my mind refused to engage, and all I had was outline.

I tried to salvage it using the snowflake method, where you start with a very high-level outline and expand the detail at each level in iterations until eventually you have a novel. For me, though, I just got a more detailed outline, not prose. Writing brain would not engage.

I’ve also tried many of the approaches Holly Lisle details in her courses, both paid and free, with mixed success. One example is the notecard method, where you write out scene ideas on notecards and shuffle them around until you like the shape of the story, then start writing. While I could write scenes here and there, and could keep writing for a while, even a few months in the latest attempt, it just didn’t work. I was fooling myself for most of that time, but when I finally stopped forcing it, I also stopped writing – for months. Not good.

“The 90-day Novel” was interesting to work through. I wound up with something that resembled a novel, but that I didn’t like much. At the moment, I can’t even remember which story I wrote this way, just that I wasn’t happy with it. I kept thinking I would go back and try again, but couldn’t force myself to do it. Coming back a second time, I couldn’t even start. Not for me.

Starting with an idea and trying to figure out the story as I went was fun… but didn’t result in novel-length stories that I liked. In part, I would start thinking through what “should” happen next, and wound up with the same sense of forcing myself through that derailed the more explicitly planned attempts.

Short stories… aren’t novels.

So what’s next? What should my approach be, as I sit here looking at a fast-approaching November?

Short stories are so much easier, but I really want to write novels. Novels are what I read, for the most part, so why is it that short stories are what I write?

Part of it’s the time span. When I was doing the story a week challenge, I would usually sit down on Saturday morning, open up my mind to some image or sensation or phrase, and just write. Words on screen coaxed that first impression into a character, a problem, complications, a solution, all in the course of an hour or two. Then came the editing pass – adding or changing details, expanding explanatory sections, changing the order of events if it made more sense that way. A proofreading pass, and I was done – all in a weekend, and sometimes all in a single day.

A novel is harder, because after I disconnect from that first rush of inspiration, I don’t know how to pick it up again without introducing judgement, planning. What I think of as my writing mind just isn’t that into it, if it knows what happens next, or if it’s told what “should” happen next – and when I pick up where I left off, my everyday mind can’t help but evaluate what I wrote before and how it might fit into a larger story, into what could or should happen next. And the writing brain pikes off to daydream about rutabagas.

The Plan (I just can’t get away from planning…)

So how do I do it? How do I engage that freewheeling creativity in an ongoing narrative, over the course of days, weeks, etc.? No idea, but I’ve been reading up on meditation and trying to practice regularly. (not successfully, mind you) Meditation seems close to the feeling of writing, so why not combine the two? I really don’t think it’ll hurt, and I’ll never know if it works if I don’t try!

So… For the month of November, I’m planning (of course) to treat writing as a meditation practice. To write without judging what comes out – without even judging whether what I write counts as a story, or might be workable into a story, or leads perfectly into this outline I just planned out based on yesterday’s words…

We’ll see. It’s worth a try, right?

Slow Cooker Chicken Paprikash

I wasn’t sure until I added the noodles, but I think the slow cooker chicken paprikash is a success!

(Last time, not so much – I put the noodles in at the beginning and they dissolved within about 40 minutes, turning it into a pudding-like mixture that, while tasty, was not the intended result!)

Notes:
1: If you’d rather a low-fat version, feel free to cut the butter down to 2 tablespoons instead of 6. I’m shooting for a specific balance of macronutrients, which is why I needed to add fat. You could probably leave it out altogether, but I think that’d be kind of sad…
2: The sauce will look curdled, but it still tastes lovely!

Ingredients:
10 oz dry noodles (I like the whole wheat type, but use any pasta you enjoy!)
2 lbs chicken breast meat, cubed
1 small (1-lb) container sour cream
1 medium potato, cubed
1 lb baby carrots (or cut up 1 lb of regular carrots)
6 Tbsp butter, cut into chunks
2 cups chicken broth
2 Tbsp flour or corn starch
2-3 Tbsp paprika (I like a mix of sweet, sharp, and smoked paprikas from Penzey’s Spices)
2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp ground pepper (or white pepper – whatever you have around)

Directions:
Toss everything but the noodles in a 6 quart slow-cooker and cook on low for 8 hours. When you’re ready to eat, cook up the noodles according to the package instructions, drain, and mix into the slow cooker until thoroughly covered with sauce.

(If you’re feeling energetic when you start, blend the flour and seasonings into the sour cream first and then slowly mix in the chicken broth – that might help with the curdled appearance.)

As with my other slow-cooker recipes, here are the per-batch and per-two-person meal nutritional values. This recipe makes four meals, each of which Brian and I split 60-40.

Per batch: 3799 calories, 307 g carbs, 176 g fat, 249 g protein
Per 2-person meal: 950 calories, 77 g carbs, 44 g fat, 62 g protein

Slow Cooker Curry

I’ve posted this one on Facebook before, but by adding it to the blog, now there’s a permalink for when more friends ask for the recipe!

This is my favorite curry recipe, and you can easily change it up by using a different curry powder, different nuts, or adding raisins. For some reason, raisins and curry always go together beautifully. :)

Chicken Chana Masala
(Fits well in a 4 quart slow cooker)

1 lb chicken, in 1″ cubes (approximate)
2 cans of chickpeas (one strained, one not)
1 can of diced tomatoes (I like the kind with jalapenos mixed in!)
1 cup of tomato sauce (I use the Nature’s Promise Basil & Tomato sauce from Stop & Shop)
2 Tablespoons of butter (I’m sure you could use ghee too, but I’m too lazy – I just cut a bit off the stick and drop it in.)
4 ounces of cashews
1/2 cup of rolled oats
3 Tablespoons curry powder (or to taste)
1/2 bag of frozen peas (around 4/3 cup)

Directions:
Throw everything but the frozen peas in the slow-cooker, and cook on low for 8-10 hours. Stir before you leave it for the day, and up to twice during the day (optional). One to two hours before you plan to serve it (or package it up for eating later), stir in the frozen peas. I usually add them before we head out for Crossfit.

Each batch makes three two-person meals that Brian and I split 60/40:

Per batch: 2866 calories, 259 grams carbohydrates, 102 grams fat, 232 grams protein
Per “meal”: 955 calories, 86 grams carbohydrates, 34 grams fat, 77 grams protein

Enjoy! What are your favorite curry variations?

Slow cooker chili recipes

I’ve been promising Florian for weeks that I would post up some slow cooker recipes, and then not getting around to it. Maybe if I break it up a bit instead of planning one big post, it’ll work out better!

Here are my two favorite slow cooker chili recipes. I calculated out the macronutrients using MyFitnessPal.com so that Brian and I can split one “meal” 60/40 and hit our targets – I’ll include the numbers for both the batch and a single two-person meal. Feel free to modify to your own tastes and preferred batch size!

For both of these, my general process is to toss all the ingredients into the slow cooker, stir, cover, and cook on low for 8-12 hours. It’s great to stir once or twice during the day too, but not essential. Always stir before serving out!

You can also prep slow-cooker meals in advance, either in the stoneware, or in a gallon-sized ziplock in either the fridge or freezer.

Bison Chili
1 lb ground bison (or other protein of your choice)
2 cans kidney beans, one strained and one with liquid. (I normally do one light and one dark, you can also use other beans)
1 cup tomato sauce (I use Nature’s Promise tomato-basil pasta sauce)
1 can diced tomatoes, with liquid (even better – Del Monte’s diced tomatoes with jalapenos!)
2 Tablespoons almond butter
1-3 Tablespoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Makes 2 meals, fits well in a 4-quart slow-cooker
Per batch: 1870 calories, 172 grams of carbs, 62 grams of fat, 153 grams of protein
Per 2-person meal: 935 calories, 86 grams of carbs, 31 grams of fat, 77 grams of protein
Salt to taste after serving.

Double Chili with Quinoa
1 lb ground bison (or other protein of your choice)
3 cans kidney beans, two strained and one with liquid. (I normally do one light and one dark, you can also use other beans)
2 cups tomato sauce (I use Nature’s Promise tomato-basil pasta sauce)
2 cans diced tomatoes, with liquid (even better – Del Monte’s diced tomatoes with jalapenos!)
4 Tablespoons almond butter
1/2 cup dry quinoa
1-4 Tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Makes 4 meals, fits well in a 6-quart slow-cooker
Per batch: 3665 calories, 334 grams carbs, 129 grams fat, 312 grams protein
Per meal: 916 calories, 84 grams carbs, 32 grams fat, 78 grams protein
Salt to taste after serving.

Let me know if you have any questions!

© 2010 Catherine Wechsler, used with permission. http://cwechsler.zenfolio.com/

© 2010 Catherine Wechsler, used with permission.

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