Tuesday, June 26, 2012

writing: tips from a non-expert

Hey all! I've been away from blogging due to my internet, but it seems I've caught a decent wave of it (keep your fingers crossed).

I wanted to talk about something I do every summer, and have for as long as I can remember. I write. A lot. During the school year, I scribble poems quickly onto the backs of grading sheets and receipts, or I type a section of dialogue into a text message that I send to myself. These furtive writing spurts are all I really have time (or energy) for during the school year. Summer, though, is different. I put on my large pink headphones, block out the world, and write for hours every day.

It's refreshing to finally have time to write; it's as if there's been a flood of words inside me all year that is now able to be released. It's not particularly pretty; frankly, some of this writing is messy and all over the place. That's okay. I don't have pressure to write anything fantastic because I have so much time. I can edit later, there's always time to edit later. Writing is the part that takes up so much energy, and that's why I save it for summer.

I thought I'd do a little tips/guide of what I've been using to do my writing. I definitely don't aim to call myself any kind of expert, but I do write a lot (I wasn't kidding about that "hours a day" thing⎯right now I'm averaging about 4), so that has to count for something, right? If you're like me and get the word urge in summer, here's what I recommend.

1. Scrivener

I'm really cheap. Supremely cheap. I'm actually probably the cheapest person there is (I'm looking at you, Ebenezer Scrooge⎯you don't come close sir!). I hate spending money on things, and generally avoid it at all costs. That said, I paid money for this program. That's how good it is.

If you're a novelist, screenplay writer, or even the short-story sort, you should give this a try. Before, I found it unbelievably frustrating to keep all my notes organized. I wanted to be able to quickly (and easily) access plot notes, setting notes, character maps⎯you name it⎯while writing the main piece. Word didn't cut it. I tried some other writing software, but they just didn't feel right for me. Then I found Scrivener, and I fell in love.

Not only can you keep all your notes together, but you can easily outline and rearrange your writing. It is a God-send to me and my frazzled brain, I swear it. I have folders upon folders of notes, and Scrivener lets me access them in no time⎯and then tuck them out of sight when I'm trying to focus on the writing itself. Some other neat features are its full screen mode (because I am so easily distractible), the color coding features, ability to write synopses and notes on the movable notecards, and the easy export of your writing into a variety of formats. My all-time favorite feature? The statistics. I'm a freak, yeah, but I need to set quotas for myself when writing. Scrivener lets you set a project goal and a session goal. So, if you're aiming towards 50,000 words (nanowrimo is coming up, after all!), you can set your project goal to that and your session goal to, like, 500 or 1,000 words or anything else you'd like. It is so helpful and motivating for me to see the little blue bar move across, telling me that I am getting close to my goals.

Download a free trial to check it out here, and, if you dig it like I do, buy the full one after!

2. Freedom

I've said it many times, but I swear I have some sort of attention issue. God bless me, but I cannot keep away from the Internet; when it's working properly, I will have over 30 tabs open (no exaggeration) and will get sucked into Neopets solitaire an hour after I said I was just going to check the common locations of willow trees. It is a terrible affliction.

Luckily for me, I have Freedom, and you can too! It blocks off the Internet completely for an amount of time you specify. I usually put it for 2 hours at a time. (Brutal, I know). I'm pretty sure the only way you can get Internet back onto your computer before the time is up is by shutting off your computer and restarting it⎯and while I'm distractible and love me some Neopets, my laziness wins and I remain productive. It is seriously the best tool ever. If I ever publish a book, it will be thanks to this beautiful application.

Download Freedom here and watch your productivity skyrocket. You can thank me later. ;)

3. Nook (or other book/eReader of your choice)

"What?" you are probably saying to yourself. How is a book useful whatsoever when writing? Well, let me ask you something. Have you ever written for so long that you start hating everything coming out of your head and begin seeing red spots and are then overcome with an overwhelming sense of doom? (Is that just me?) When I'm stuck in the "this-scene-sucks, I'm-no-good, let-me-find-the-bleach-so-I-can-drink-it" mood, it's important for me to take a quick break before I throw my computer and/or myself out the window. I don't want to completely remove myself from prose/the written word, though, because I have a goal in mind to write and I can't just abandon that.

I find it refreshing (and helpful) to read when I get stuck in writing ruts. I let the prose wash over me. It sounds silly, but it really helps. Try reading aloud or copying sentences from your favorite passages. Get the rhythm of the language, the flow of ideas and syntax, into you. I like using a Nook because I can read parts of many books without having to lug them all around with me. Once you're feeling less suicidal, get back to work. I always find it a lot easier to carry on after I take a break and absorb other people's brilliant writing.

4. Sketchbook

Again, I'm not crazy. It's my belief that a sketchbook is a vital tool for a writer. Even if you're not artistically inclined, there's a lot you can do with one. I like to plot out scenes, drawing diagrams of rising and falling action so that I can get a clear picture of where parts are lagging or are going too quickly. I make maps and blueprints so I know exactly where everything is (I have horrible visual-spatial memory, so I need to make a hard copy). Sketchbooks are also useful for character maps and, yes, drawing scenes or people as you see fit. I certainly have tons of sketches of characters and the worlds they live in.

Sketchbooks are better for me than regular notebooks because they're such a blank slate. I can write all wonky and it doesn't matter. Carry around a small one and take notes about people's actions, clothes, colloquialisms, and mannerisms. These lists are awesome to go back to later when you're searching for ideas. I keep a pocket Moleskine with me so that anytime inspiration hits, I'm ready. 

5. Baby Name Books
yes, I own this.
It's been a joke for years that I'm expecting. I have a ton of baby name books. First of all, I just really enjoy etymology, and names are lumped in with that for me. But apart from that weird personal quirk, baby name books are quite useful. Names tell a lot about a person, but we often meet many people with similar names (especially if we're living in a very homogenous area), and you can't have everyone in your story named "Michael." When I'm in need of the perfect name for a character, I sift through one of my baby name books and take notes. Pick a good one with meanings and history, if you're a name-freak like me. You can also access sites online that are pretty sweet. Plus, when the time comes for a little bundle of joy to interrupt your writing life, you'll be totes-magotes prepared for it.


So there you have it! My little list of tools I dig when writing in the summer. Of course, you definitely need a bomb playlist to help you focus too (I'm currently listening to a lot of Florence and the Machine). I hope you find inspiration if you're looking for it, and put those ideas to good use!

As for pictures, the weather is starting to shape up a bit after days of torrential rain, so I should likely have photos for you all soon! The library has nice, normal Internet (not of the stolen variety), so I'll hop over there sometime and get a real nice post on here. Oh! And Henrik and I are planning to go to Copenhagen for the day on Thursday, so I will likely have some fun pictures from there as well. :) Yay for Scandinavian vacations! Hope you all are enjoying summer. :)

Saturday, June 23, 2012


I think I finally figured out this internet situation. If I lay just right, at an angle, with the computer held up with a thick book (and I mean thick), it appears to work, albeit very slowly. Can't really complain though!

I have some Instagram shots from yesterday, but first what I wore today⎯to go grocery shopping for strawberries, eggs, and ice cream. :) The rest of the day was spent writing. Vacation is so good to me!

blouse: vintage ~ leather skirt: h&m ~ loafers: vintage ~ amethyst ring: no idea

I think these are the first pictures I've posted of my sort-of-new haircut. I didn't get much done, just a bit snipped off (which seems to have unleashed some waves in my hair, which is fine by me). It's been fairly cloudy recently, so I'm crossing my fingers for warmer weather. I want to wear shorts and tank tops!

Yesterday, we didn't do much because it was raining nearly the entire day. We did have a very traditional meal though⎯herring, smoked salmon, potatoes, and strawberries. :)

how dark it was at 10:30 pm.. longest day of the year!

may pole!

So this post straight up took over an hour to do, thanks to the internet routinely cutting out. :P I'm calling it quits for the evening and heading to bed. Hope this was a good glimpse! I'll be heading to the library soon to use their real internet. ;) Enjoy your weekends! To all of you who have left comments in the past couple days, I really appreciate them! I will respond asap once I get a proper connection, haha. :)

Friday, June 22, 2012

hej from sweden!

I am currently writing from someone else's [slightly sketchy] wifi, but I wanted to post and say that I am not dead! I am very much alive, if only a bit sleepy. :)

After 3 full days of traveling⎯who knew San Francisco was so far from Scandinavia⎯I am safely in Sweden, curled up in bed at Henrik's grandmother's house. Today is Midsummer Day, a holiday celebrated  in Northern Europe. There's lots of history behind the holiday (including a bit about fertility, oo la la!), but how Henrik explains it is that most people celebrate with big meals, may poles, and copious amounts of alcohol. Not too bad! It's raining currently, but I hope to snap some pictures of the festivities if there are any. Henrik's currently off getting champagne and smoked salmon as I speak.

How did I arrive here at Sweden? Well, here's the brief break down:

Oakland ---> BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) ---> San Francisco Airport ---> plane ---> JFK Airport ---> taxi ---> Brooklyn (to visit our friend Ian) ---> metro ---> JFK Airport ---> shuttle ---> plane ---> Copenhagen ---> train ---> Båstad ---> taxi ---> Henrik's grandmother's house

Phew! A lot of traveling. :) I took primarily film photos thus far, so you'll have to wait a bit for those. Here are some Instagram shots of the first leg of the trip!

As for 2 and 1 of my countdown, I'll have to upload those when my internet connection is more solid. I also have an exciting bit of information to share (exciting for me, anyways), so that's coming too. Thanks for being patient while I've been running around on this crazy adventure, guys!

Monday, June 18, 2012

4 and 3 and dad

How is it that a million errands creep up RIGHT before you're going to be totes unavailable to do them, aka going on an international multi-country adventure? I feel like I've been running around this entire weekend!

4 and 3 of the countdown are simple, but oh so good (and delicious).

You know the   SinéadO'Connor song where she warbles, "Nothing compares to you," over and over? That's how I feel about tuna pizza. I try and try to make it here in the US but...well, you guys know how the song goes. My cousins are kind and usually get one for me first thing when I get off the plane.

Err'yday, err'yday.

Food aside now, I want to talk about something really special: my dad!

My dad immigrated to the U.S. as a student, to attend college. He was incredibly bright and so received scholarships. He met my mom⎯an American girl from just outside Detroit⎯and, well, you can guess what happened! My dad stayed here. He's a professor now, and is one of the smartest people I know. He is humble, kind, and curious. He likes to ask questions, even if he's asked the same one a few minutes earlier. He has a great laugh. My dad taught me to love all people, to be steadfast in my faith but decide what is true for myself, to appreciate beauty, and to sacrifice when needed. I realize now how much I am like him. I have his cowlick and bad eyesight. I love languages (my dad is fluent in 3). I get lost in thought. I am careful with money and I am sensitive, but don't show it.

I know that I am fortunate. It seems that so many people I know and love have fathers so unlike mine⎯cruel or selfish or absent men. My father loved me, and my mother, unwaveringly; he provided for my family, and made each choice with us in mind. Not all fathers are like my dad. Not all men are like my dad. I'm reminded of the Alanis Morissette song, "Princes Familiar." For those of you who haven't listened to it yet, do. (I'm a major Alanis fan, and sistafriend even shares my birthday so HOLLA) The song is more or less talking about how we women are affected by our fathers, how our fathers affect our view of men. She is asking fathers to do right by their daughters so that they have a good example of what kind of man to be with later in life.
"Papa, love your princess so that she will find loving princes familiar."
The idea that women, unconsciously or not, seek out men like their fathers is not a new one. I always thought it was a load of baloney. I did, after all, go through a series of jerks. I'm starting to give it more consideration, however, because Henrik is remarkably like my dad in many ways. I do also think that my dad's patience, consistent love, and appreciation for my intelligence, creativity, and ambition left an impression on me; because he treated me as someone special, I learned not to tolerate men who did not do the same. He has always respected my thoughts, my body, and my autonomy. My dad came to my performances of The Vagina Monologues and cheered me on. My dad listens to my poems, and then asks me about them. My dad rooted me on when I made the decision to move across the country at the age of 20. My dad has been nothing but supportive of me and my choices. Thanks to my dad, I do find loving, gentle, attentive, curious, funny, respectful men familiar. My dad is an outstanding man and an amazing father. I am so blessed. Love you, Popsa!

Friday, June 15, 2012

countdown: 7, 6, 5

Hey all! It has been an incredibly hectic couple days, which I was not expecting at all. Yesterday was the last day of school! That means my first year of teaching is officially over. I survived! Yes, yes, yes!

my "holy shit, I did it" face

I honestly am still in a bit of shock, but that's okay! I have oodles of pictures to post this weekend now that I'm on ~summer vacation~, but today I need to run and watch some of my babies graduate. That's right. I'm watching some of my first students ever graduate today. All of my seniors are walking the stage. After a brutal year of struggling and struggling and working and struggling some more, they will cross the stage at noon to accept their high school diplomas. I'm pretty sure the waterworks are about to come on full strength as I sit in my fancy dress and try not to look professional and composed.

But yes, more about that later. In all the hecticness of end-of-the-year events and my out of control tear ducts, I totally did not come on to post more of my countdown/things I love about Tunisia. I'm sad to say that there has actually been a fair bit of bad news about Tunisia recently, things that are making me nervous. Some of the conservative religious folks are causing a lot of trouble⎯burning things, making threats. A curfew has been imposed in most major cities. I'm hoping it calms down soon so that there isn't any difficulty with Henrik trying to come into the country; I'm a Tunisian citizen, so I don't expect trouble, but he might if things keep up the way they are. I also, of course, am worried in general for my country. It's a turbulent time and I really hope things don't go downhill. Cross your fingers that things get better. If you're curious, you can read more here, here, and here.

Keeping positive, here's what I'm looking forward to; because I missed three days, I thought this would be a good choice. ;)

Who are these astoundingly good-looking people? Why, my aunt and cousins, of course! I have grown up with this family. Every summer, they would welcome me and my rowdy siblings into their home. Slim would entertain us with Tuorock on Nintendo 64, Hend would share her Mulan figurines, and Tata Lilia would bring home bags of olives from the market because she knew they were my favorite. I have so much love for the three you see pictured here. When I think of Tunisia, I think of these goofballs and all the adventures we've had. Slim, who is two years older than me, has been one of my best friends from the very beginning. Hend is the coolest girl you'll ever meet. Her intelligence, creativity, and humor are unmatched. This family has been there for me always. Even across the ocean, they send their love and support consistently through Facebook and messages relayed to my father on his visits. I am lucky to have such great relatives. I cannot wait to see them.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

countdown: 8

I am incredibly sleepy this evening and looking to cuddle Henrik before he passes out from exhaustion beside me, so this post will be brief! It is also fairly obvious, so I thought it would be a good fit for my current brain-dead state. ;)

Beaches. Bitches love beaches.

In all seriousness, the beaches in Tunisia are freaking bomb. This is Monastir (I was on top of a large tower when I took this). In Sousse, we usually head to Chott Meriem. Kelibia and Hammamet have some pretty solid beaches, too. Beaches, beaches, beaches! How can I not look forward to this??

On a totally unrelated note, I went through my spam inbox on a whim to see if I missed anything important (thanks for hiding my American Apparel birthday code, Gmail! >:O ). I didn't find too much, but I did get some major chuckles at all the penis enlargement/pornography ads that were sent my way. For your enjoyment, dear friends, a sampling:

I like the alliteration going on in the first one. Also, Henrik asks a good question: what kind of balloons? Water balloons? Hot air balloons? Clarification, please. As for the second one, I always aim to frighten people with my genitalia.
I'll leave you all with my personal favorite:

Have a nice night, folks. ;P

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

do it yerself

To prepare myself for a summer of not-a-lot of thrifting, I went on a little shopping spree this weekend. I don't really consider second-hand stores like Crossroads, Buffalo Exchange, and Plato's Closet thrifting, per se, but it is still relatively cheap and not new, so I guess it'll mostly count. I hit up Crossroads in Rockridge this weekend because I was lazy and it was near my eye appointment. ;) Anyways, here's the loot!

I also did an assortment of DIYs! They're not terribly fancy, but if you're curious, check it out! :)

DIY: Studs
It seems like everyone is getting into studs, and I'm included in that. I wanted to stud something but faced a problem: no studs. I checked a couple stores during Week Without Walls, but being the resourceful (read: impatient and stubborn) person that I am, after a few no-go's I decided to get studs another way. My dear friend, Elissa, deserves credit for this one.

You know those studded belts kids used to wear in middle school, wrapped around their pudgy bellies as they walked by to the tune of Good Charlotte? God bless those kids, and God bless 2003. Without them, where would we find our awesome studded belts? Probably not at thrift stores, but thanks to that fad, I'm willing to bet that there are belts a'plenty at your local thrift spot. There were at mine⎯snagged this one for like a buck.

So you've got your belt. Next step is to get something flat and hard, like a screwdriver or some pliers. I used this handy-dandy tool I found in Henrik's junk drawer. With your hard, flat thingy (...), pry the ends of the little studs so that they're standing up straight. It might take some digging to get under the edge, but keep trying!

Once the metal ends are sticking up, just pop 'em out. Next thing you have to do is push them into whatever it is you're studding. I studded that denim vest, and it wasn't hard at all to poke through.

Easy peasy, right? Lemon squeezy, you might even say (oh ha ha ha). But yeah, you've got your spiky ends through. Last step is simple⎯just press 'em down!

Ta-da! So easy! This whole "craft" project took me like 10 minutes after I got the studs out of the belt; de-studding the belt takes a lot of time, but it's not too hard, and who doesn't like pseudo-recycling? ;)

DIY: Bleach
Bleach has become one of my favorite DIY tools. Why? BECAUSE HOW FRIGGIN EASY IS IT?! You just splash some bleach on stuff, and voilà, instant cool-factor! I dig it.

I bought this black crop top during my shopping extravaganza:

Yeah, yeah, cute, but boring! I wanted to bring it to life! I wanted to play with poisonous chemicals! So, I brought out the bleach.

Word of caution: I live in an apartment and don't have a yard, so I did all this in my bathroom. It smelled awful and I'm pretty sure I inhaled some gnarly fumes. Make sure you have some good ventilation to keep your brain cells from getting fried, ladies.

Anyways, so find a place where you don't mind bleach getting everywhere⎯bathroom, kitchen perhaps, crime scene.... I hung my clothes up on a hanger and put it up on the shower rod. You'll likely want a spray bottle also; feel free to reuse an old one you have laying around. Henrik had this one, because Henrik has everything.

I started off by doing some random⎯and I mean random⎯squirts to make the stars. I was liking it, but wanted more oomph. Like, Milky Way oomph. I wanted a freaking nebula (look at me getting sciencey, aka talking about things of which I know little). I also found that the droplets kept sliding down and leaving trails, which I wasn't super big on. Darn you, gravity!

To fix this, I climbed into my shower and held up the end of my shirt so that it was more-or-less horizontal and parallel to the bathtub floor. With my free hand, I squirted a heck of a lot of bleach into the areas I wanted big splotches. I held it steady so the bleach didn't dribble all over the place. Then, after about a minute, I let it go.

Once I was done, it looked like this! I'm pretty darn pleased with it. :) Of course, you're definitely going to want to wash it before you wear it; I rinsed mine in the shower with lukewarm water. If you don't rinse it, your skin will be itchy when you wear it, you'll smell like swimming pool gone wrong, and you may very well get some holes in your garment if the bleach keeps eating through it. So, wash it! You'll get to see all sorts of yellowish run-off drain out, mmmm! ;) Wait until the bleach is dry, though.

There you have it! Two incredibly easy DIYs. If you haven't tried either of these yet, don't be shy! They're really easy and a great way to spruce up plain items just laying around.

Ps. And if you need extra incentive, check this out:


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