Friday, April 27, 2012

The First Thirty

A reminder that my more current blog is at Posts here come several weeks later.
I went on a hike up Farmington Canyon. I've posted a few of the pictures here.
As soon I as I was out of the car, the voices started up in my head. You've probably heard them before. They whisper things like:
It's too cold.
You're not prepared. You don't have the right clothing.
The snow is too deep.
It's too far to the summit.
These voices have the most power the first thirty minutes of a hike. The voices will tell you it's not really giving up if you've only just started. And since you've only invested a small portion of your time and energy, turning around is easy to do.
Sometimes the voices may speak truth. Perhaps you are not fully prepared. Perhaps the way is too difficult.
But mostly the voices lie. And in the first thirty minutes, you are the most vulnerable.
Once I've left my car far behind, and the valley is spread out in my view, I find I can talk back to the voices.
The summit is still too far.
Then I will go as far as I can.
The snow is getting deeper.
I've walked through worse.
You cannot do this.
Yes. I can.
If I make it past the first thirty minutes, I can usually make it to my goal. I see through the voices' lies, I've invested significant time and energy, and I plow my way to the top.
I've discovered a similar truth in writing. When you begin a new story, the voices are quick to speak up.
These characters are bland.
The plot is thin.
You'll never get to eighty thousand words.
Again, most of the time the voices lie. But it's easy to stop when you've just begun. It's easy to tell yourself that the story isn't as compelling as you first thought. You haven't invested the time, so it's easy to close the document and move on to something else.
Don't believe the voices.
Lower your shoulders, pick a good pace, and plunge ahead. Write the first thirty pages. Ignore the voices and just move forward. Perhaps on page thirty-one, you can start to respond to those nagging doubts.
The characters are weak.
I'm getting to know them.
You'll never reach eighty thousand words.
Maybe not, but tonight I'll reach three thousand.
The plot is thin.
I can do this.
Ignore the voices until you've written thirty pages. Invest the time and effort that your story both deserves and demands. You'll find the next two hundred pages will very likely come.
One last thing. When hiking, I've found that at the base of the trail there are dozens of footsteps. The farther you go, the thinner the tracks. One by one, those who have gone before turn around and head back. Eventually, there is an exhilarating moment when you see the last set of tracks come to an end. You look to the trail ahead and see nothing but unbroken snow.
In writing, it's not good to compare yourself to others. There are far too many variables. But sometimes I like to compare what I'm doing now with what I've done in the past. Maybe first the goal is to just finish a short story. Then it's to writing something longer. Maybe you want to place in a contest, and then come in first. Then the goal may be as lofty as finishing a novel, submitting it, and getting good feedback. Then that happy day comes when you sign a contract, and see one of your books on the shelf.
If you ignore the voices, sometimes you can go farther than you ever thought possible. All you have to do is tackle the first thirty.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Original post here.

Sometime in my childhood, someone introduced me to the paradox of the unstoppable force and the immovable object. I spent months and months trying to resolve this problem.

In my young mind I pictured the immovable object as an anvil in space. The unstoppable force as a hammer flying toward it. I went over and over the conundrum in my mind. What would happen when the two met? How could one be unstoppable, and the other immovable? It just doesn’t work! My tiny little brain couldn’t comprehend it.

And then it could. At some point I developed a solution. I came to understand that you couldn’t have both an immovable object and an unstoppable force existing at the same time.

Here is the first beautiful truth: When an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, only one of them emerges with their name intact.

In college, my very first English professor announced to the class that you couldn’t make a living at creative writing. It was practical advice, stated simply. He spoke from years of experience. Here was an immovable object. A universal truth.

Only it wasn't.

I stopped writing for ten years. I graduated with two degrees in different subjects. But somewhere deep inside, the author would not be still. He would not be silent.

And so I wrote. And wrote. And wrote some more. I experienced pain that only other artists truly understand.

I have two books in print. I have an amazing agent working with me on a third book. I do not support myself with my writing. I do not know if the force I have built up is enough to break this personal immovable object. It may not be. The professor may have been right . . . for now.

Here is the second beautiful truth: You can always try again.

When the unstoppable force is stopped, it proves nothing. There is a spark in each of us—a spark that makes us human. Sometimes that spark is buried deep. Sometimes we’re not sure it’s there at all. But it is. And that spark demands that we try again. And again. And again.

The spark does not demand that we succeed. Only that we try.

Here is the third truth: Sometimes we succeed.

And that is the most beautiful truth of all. Blood. Sweat. Tears. Piles and piles of practice and work. In the end you just might reveal the immovable object for what it is—a fraud.

We try, we try, we try again. And in the end, when the dust has settled, we will see ourselves for what we really are.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Moving . . .

I've somehow managed to snatch away from the millions of other Marion Jensens (all of whom are 80 year old women), and I've started blogging there. I will continue to post here, but it will usually be a few days late and several dollers short. So if you want the latest and greatest, please subscribe to my new blog at

See you over at the new shiny!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Breaking Bad

I was talking with a few friends on Twitter about Breaking Bad. I ended up disagreeing with a couple of them, and promised to write a blog post about my opinions. It's not that I think I'm right and everybody else is wrong. It's that I'm right, and everybody else just hasn't realized it yet.

Okay, only joking. But I do have some strong opinions on the subject. Stephen King says it's the best writing on TV, and I agree.

The first episode starts out with a middle age man--Walt--recording himself on a video camera. He's emotional, almost sobbing. He tells his family how much he loves them. He is standing in the middle of the desert, and he's not wearing any pants.

This isn't just a clever place to start to show. It's the only place to start the show. Walt comes across as a man who is suffering. A man who had done something bad, but he's done it for his family. For somebody else. You feel pity for Walt. Empathy. And that's good, because we're about to see what led Walt to this scene, and it's not pretty. Walt has done some reprehensible things.

One friend on Twitter said that Breaking Bad was a show about bad people doing bad things with no consequences. I argue it's about good people doing bad things, and the consequences come just as the do in real life--slowly. Better yet, we get to understand why these good people are doing bad things. To me, that's just one of the things that makes the show so fascinating.

Another brilliant aspect of the show is the dynamics between Walter White, the middle age chemistry teacher, and Jessie Pinkman, the drug-dealing meth addict. We see episodes where Walt rubs off on Jessie in a positive way. He serves as a mentor of sorts, pushing Jessie to be a better person. We hold out hope that these two suffering souls can pull each other up.

But it's not to be. There are other episodes where what Walt chooses to do is so horrible that even Jessie can't go along with it. Roles are reversed, and Jessie becomes the conscience of the group.

The conflict and decisions throughout the show are painful and beautiful.

There is probably an entire semester's worth of writing lessons in Breaking Bad. The characters are both complex and real. The writing and pacing is tight. And the acting is nothing short of brilliant.

I will admit, Breaking Bad may not be for everybody. It peels back the layers of human nature, and takes a stark look at all that is bad about us. But it also takes just as bold a look at what is the best in all of us. An example of this is a scene that I can't describe without giving it away. It's at the end of season three, and it's the part where Walt looks at Jessie and says, "Run."

That scene is brilliant, and exemplifies all that is good about Breaking Bad.

I don't expect a happy ending with the show. I'll be disappointed if we get one. Breaking Bad is about choices and consequences. It's reminder of the very short distance between good and evil. A few wrong choices, a few bad actions, and we too can break bad. We'll steer off course and cross that very fine line between human and monster.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Tackling 2012

Happy New Year!

Usually I write my New Year's resolutions in December. I just write down the things I did the previous 12 months, and then feel pretty darn good about myself. But this year I actually have a few goals, and thought, what the heck. I'll write them down on the blog where I can't misplace them. This is more for me than for you, but please feel free to mock me at the end of the year when I once again ACCOMPLISH NOTHING.


I'm about 12,000 words into a speculative fiction novel called Monster. I'm having loads of fun with it. I've also got Almost Super 2 completely outlined. I'm going to keep working on Monster unless circumstances call for Almost Super 2 to be written first. Either way, I need to finish another book. Sometimes it seems daunting, but in 2012, I need to write more.

I thought about declaring selling Almost Super was my goal, but that goal is largely in the capable hands of my agent, Sara Crowe. So for me, I'll stick to what I can control. And what I can control is writing.

Finally, this year I wrote a short story. It's on a topic about which I feel very strong. I'd like to get it published sometime in 2012.

Goal: Complete a book
Goal: Get short story published 


I always wondered if  running might become one of those things I do for a while, and then drop. But the more I get into it, the more I really enjoy it. I just discovered the joy of trail running, and Google maps shows me that I've got miles and miles of trail just begging to be discovered less than three miles from my house. Even better, there is a three mile trail that can take me from my house to those other awesome trails.

Goal: Run a 5k in under 24 minutes
Goal: Run a half marathon in under 2 hours

Neither of those times are impressive. In fact, they probably look a little pathetic. But that's what I'm going to shoot for. I'm planning on running three half marathons this year, and then as many 5 ks as I can practically do. If any of you are running anything along the Wasatch front, let me know. It's always fun to suffer with others.


I'll admit it. I can't garden to save my life. But we have a very large garden spot, and we need to get more than just carrots and pumpkins out of it. So this year I'm hoping to have a productive garden. I've decided that rather than trying to produce a whole bunch of stuff that we never end up eating, I'm going to focus on a few things that we do eat. I plan on planting a huge raspberry patch, strawberries, tomatoes, and maybe some yams.

If that doesn't work, we're fencing the whole garden and raising hogs. Because who doesn't want more bacon, am I right?

Goal: Have a garden that doesn't suck.

There you have it. I'll try to remember to check these off when/if I complete them. And if I haven't completed them all by the end of 2012, you are free to publicly humiliate me. Also, bring me zucchini. Because I love zucchini, but can never seem to grow it.