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Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

stripes tea bare feet red scarf

I love a good list, as you know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while. I’m also battling the winter blues over here (already), so here’s a list of fun ideas to help me get through my least favorite season.

  • Fill up the journal I started earlier this month. (Related: keep writing by hand.)
  • Spend some time at the Harvard Art Museums. They’re finally open again after a multi-year renovation, and my Harvard staff ID means I get in for free.
  • Start hunting for a new pair of red ballet flats. Mine are falling apart, and I know I’ll want some new ones come spring.
  • Invite some friends over for dinner.
  • Spend a long weekend in Nashville with my sweet college roommate and our husbands.
  • Knit myself something cozy. (I’m working on a cabled wrap.)
  • Watch some good stories. (Currently watching new episodes of Downton Abbey and Castle, and season 3 of Veronica Mars.)
  • Read a couple of books for the Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge. (Join us?)
  • Drink lots and lots of tea. (Obviously.)

What’s on your list for this winter?

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tea keep calm mug pei

I love the “around here” posts that pop up periodically throughout the blogosphere. It’s always a true pleasure to get a glimpse into others’ everyday lives, and I like looking back at my own (sporadic) posts of this type – they are wonderful snapshots of certain moments in my life.

red leaves brown boots fall

Life is full and busy and rich (and sometimes stressful) these days, and I want to remember how it feels, in all its particularity. Right now – as of late November 2014 – I am:

  • drinking David’s pumpkin chai almost every morning, and breaking out the Yorkshire tea (with milk and sugar) when the temps dip below 30.
  • waking up to the Pride and Prejudice soundtrack and the hubs curled up next to me.
  • wearing dresses, tights and boots to work, jeans and sweaters on the weekends (with my beloved jade green coat).

katie hot cocoa red cup green coat

  • breaking out the handknit hats and fingerless gloves.
  • eating lunch with the hubs almost every Friday when he comes to Harvard Square.
  • listening to the Wailin’ Jennys, Kate Rusby, a set of jazz compilation CDs I bought in London more than a decade ago, and Sarah MacLachlan’s Wintersong album.
  • getting ready to break out the Christmas music.
  • plugging away at my NaNoWriMo mystery novel (47K words and counting – so close!).

computer mug nanowrimo

  • reading a wickedly funny publishing whodunit (out in Feb.) and rereading The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets (again).
  • looking at photos of my 11-day-old nephew, Harrison, and hoping he and my sister (who have both been fighting infections) get to go home from the hospital soon.
  • wishing I could be in Texas to sit with my sister and hug my parents. Living far away is hard sometimes.
  • burning a Leaves candle in the evenings.
  • starting my dozenth (at least) reread of Watch for the Light as Advent begins.
  • preparing for Turkeypalooza, our annual Thanksgiving potluck with friends, which means I am
  • buying sweet potatoes, pecans, evaporated milk and frozen rolls.
  • continuing my Christmas shopping (I like to start early).
  • cooking a lot of solo dinners (soup, pasta, fried eggs) and saving leftovers for the hubs when he gets home from work.
  • snapping photos of the autumn leaves and light in Harvard Square.

harvard yard autumn light leaves

catte street oxford

  • anticipating our annual Christmas trip to Texas even more eagerly than usual.
  • knitting baby sweaters for Harrison and others.
  • loving the glimpses of others’ lives I see on Instagram.
  • delighting in the weekly email exchanges with the ladies of Great New Books.
  • sipping a lot of chai lattes from Darwin’s, and the occasional peppermint hot chocolate from Starbucks, in a red cup.

darwins chai journal

  • snuggling down under the electric blanket and the quilts from our grandmothers in the evenings.
  • slathering on the hand lotion as the air gets colder and drier.
  • browsing the Harvard Book Store on my lunch breaks.
  • savoring apples from the farmers’ market before it closes for the season.

What are you up to right now?

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NaNoWriMo 2014

 

books about words photo

I’ve said for a long time that I’m not a fiction writer.

I’m a voracious fiction reader – you only have to look at my book list to see that. I love a good novel, and I appreciate the skill and hard work that go into crafting a compelling story. But when I write, it tends to be essays or book reviews (and maybe one of these days, a memoir). I often find myself intimidated by the idea of creating an entire fictional world from scratch.

Enter NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo is a wild, gleeful, no-holds-barred burst of creativity – an annual challenge to write a novel, or at least a 50,000-word draft, in a month. It happens every November, with people around the world participating, and it can be tremendous fun. I did it in 2008, when I wrote a novel about an American girl who goes to Oxford. (Art imitating life, anyone?)

I hadn’t planned to do NaNo this year, but seeing the buzz about it online made me decide to jump in, fittingly, at the last minute. And I’m loving it – such a fun chance to break out of my usual writing box and do something totally different.

I’m drafting a murder mystery set in Oxford – both a fun new challenge, an homage to the detective novelists I adore (especially Dorothy Sayers), and a chance to spend (more) time daydreaming about my favorite city.

radcliffe square dusk oxford

So far I’m at 13,000-plus words and going strong. I’ll keep you posted.

Happy Friday. And, if you’re noveling, happy NaNo!

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harvard yellow leaves houghton library

Back in early September, I posted my fall manifesto. It’s been a gorgeous fall around here, full of travel and crisp days and bright leaves. (And work craziness, just to keep it real.)

Here’s an update on my manifesto items:

  • Reread the Emily Byrd Starr books by L.M. Montgomery. Done. I love this series and it had been far too long. I enjoyed spending time with Emily again.
  • Find the perfect double-breasted trench coat. Still looking.
  • Host my sister and brother-in-law for a visit. My sister came alone, and while we missed her husband, we had a fabulous time.
  • Go apple picking. (Check. Cider donuts and all.)
  • Make pumpkin bread and cranberry-orange bread. I need to get on this.
  • Drink chai and savor the last of summer’s produce. Yes and yes.
  • Spend a week in Oxford for the first time in five years. As you might expect (and as you know if you’re a regular reader), it was fantastic.
  • Spend a long weekend in NYC with the hubs. We had a wonderful time. (I love New York in the fall.)
  • Write by hand nearly every day.* Working on it.
  • Read at least three classics.* (Silas Marner = read. The Song of the Lark, The Handmaid’s Tale and Sense and Sensibility – a reread – are all on the short stack.)
  • Knit something fun and colorful.* I’ve started a Bees to Honey shawl for myself and a secret project for a friend.

How’s your fall going? (To those celebrating – happy Halloween!)

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bookstore gloucester ma

It’s been a zany month so far, between houseguests, work obligations and prepping for travel. Here are the books that have kept me sane:

Nine Coaches Waiting, Mary Stewart
A young, orphaned Englishwoman is hired as governess to a French child in an isolated château, but begins to suspect that her charge is in danger. Lyrically written and suspenseful at first, but the second half felt flat and predictable.

That Summer, Lauren Willig
When Julia inherits a house from her unknown great-aunt, she returns to England, intending to sell up. But a mysterious Pre-Raphaelite painting, a handsome antiques dealer and Julia’s own troubled past give her reasons to stay. Compelling and fun, with a bit of historical mystery.

Ben Le Vay’s Eccentric Oxford, Benedict Le Vay
The lovely Caroline gave me this book when she visited Boston this summer. As an Oxford devotee, I already knew some of these wacky stories, but many tidbits were new to me. Quirky, fun and quintessentially English.

Walking the Woods and the Water, Nick Hunt
A longtime fan of Patrick Leigh Fermor, Hunt retraces Paddy’s journey on foot from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul. The eight decades between Paddy’s walk and Nick’s have brought many changes to each country Nick visits, and he describes them in lucid detail. I loved the anecdotes of kind strangers and the gorgeous descriptive prose. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 28).

A Poisoned Season, Tasha Alexander
Lady Emily Ashton’s second adventure finds her pursuing a cat burglar and dealing with a rather unnerving secret admirer. Witty, well plotted and much better than the first book – I’m planning to continue with the series.

Windows on the World: Fifty Writers, Fifty Views, Matteo Pericoli
Working from photographs, Pericoli creates detailed sketches of fifty windows, through which fifty writers gaze as they work. From city apartment houses to small towns and a few remote islands, the views are varied and stunning. Brief essays by each writer accompany his or her window. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 13).

The Lace Makers of Glenmara, Heather Barbieri
Fleeing a broken heart and other griefs, Kate Robinson finds herself in a tiny Irish village, where she learns lace-making from some local women. I really wanted to love this book, but I just didn’t – it felt flat and stereotypical. Pass.

The Sound of Paper, Julia Cameron
This is one of my favorite books on writing (and life), and I’ve been reading it slooooowly for the last eight weeks or so. It helped greatly in my August writing project, and it always restores my faith in myself as a writer. Highly recommended.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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memorial church harvard fall red leaves

We’re headed into my favorite season, which contains my birthday (next week!), crisp air and red leaves, the beginning of a new school year (bouquets of sharpened pencils, anyone?) and the sense of endless possibility.

I love a good list in a new season, so here’s my manifesto for this fall:

  • Reread the Emily Byrd Starr books by L.M. Montgomery – they seem perfect for crisp golden mornings and velvet twilights.
  • Find the perfect double-breasted trench coat.
  • Host my sister and brother-in-law for a visit (this weekend!).
  • Go apple picking, make pumpkin bread and cranberry bread, drink chai and savor the last of summer’s produce.
  • Spend a week in Oxford for the first time in five years. (!!!)
  • Spend a long weekend in NYC with the hubs. (I love New York in the fall.)
  • Write by hand nearly every day.
  • Read at least three classics. (I’ve got Silas Marner and The Song of the Lark on the short stack.)
  • Knit something fun and colorful.

What’s on your list for this fall?

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tea journal sunglasses

In early August, as I was taking a little break from the blog, I issued myself a small challenge: write every day, by hand, in my low-tech journal.

I’d fallen out of the habit during our crowded July, and I missed spending time at the page – not always writing anything “important,” but simply jotting down thoughts and memories and to-do lists. I also wanted to see if I could do it, plain and simple. If I wasn’t spending (much) time and energy on the blog, could I transmute that same energy into my journal? I started a brand-new journal on July 31, with high hopes.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t write every day.

Here’s what happened, though: I wrote nearly every day.

Sometimes I wrote more than once a day, scribbling down a few paragraphs in the morning and then returning for a longer writing session after work. I mused and rambled and vented; I made lists and dreamed and wondered. I worked through more than a few exercises from The Sound of Paper (for at least the fifth time). My left hand sported ink stains, and my soul remembered how to exhale.

I began to crave that time at the page, that time to listen to myself and remember what I think and why it matters. I urged myself to pick up the pen even when I didn’t want to. I did not always succeed in this, but I began to turn back toward that gentle discipline, the one I’d almost forgotten: the deeply pleasurable act of daily (or almost-daily) writing.

It’s a new month now, and last night I finished the journal I’d been scribbling in during my prolific August. I don’t know as yet if any brilliant essays were hatched in that journal, or if the fresh journal I’m starting will hold better ideas. And I’ve realized it doesn’t matter – at least, not as much as I thought it did.

What matters is the process, the gentle daily doing, the wholesome and freeing (and sometimes frustrating) act of laying it all out there on the page. What matters, as all the best writing teachers would say, is that I’m writing. Even if it’s messy or disjointed or mundane.

I’m not sure if I’ll manage to write every day in September. But I’m keeping the same goal in mind: to write nearly every day, by hand, and thus to dig a little deeper into my own life. (And maybe I’ll turn up a few good ideas while I’m digging.)

Do you write in a low-tech journal, or have a daily writing practice? Do you agree that the process is important? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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