Quit reading

The other day on Facebook, I noticed another writer post something along the lines that they were done reading for the year; now was the time to write.

A few years ago, I worked through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, a 12 week program to getting connected again with your artist self. It was extremely helpful to me at that point in my life, and I even did a modified version of it the following year. It’s always something I go back to when I feel stuck.

Julia Cameron recommends a week-long reading deprivation. No books. No magazines. No e-mails. No blogs. No Facebook. No Twitter. No texts. Instead of filling our well with the words of others, we give ourselves the space to fill it with our own. “In a dark time, the eye begins to see,” Rotheke said.

After the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, I wrote in a flood. I wrote a lot of long and winding poems about a couple who tried for a long time to get pregnant only to start have recurring miscarriages. It was a sad and lovely set of poems, but they couldn’t sustain. I couldn’t write that sort of sadness forever, especially when my life is/was so filled with beauty and joy. So I stopped, but I felt all this jilted momentum, of, “Well, what next???”

So I started a novel. I have the outline. I have the characters. I have a few scraps I’ve strung together for a couple of chapters. But then I hit another wall. “I’ve never written a novel before. I need to read more.” I started reading, and as soon as I started reading, I stopped writing. I also started criticizing. “could have written this book better.” “This person wrote seven more books just like this?” “They got how much of an advance?”

As soon as I read my fellow writer’s post on Facebook, I knew I needed to stop reading. I needed to give myself the space–the clunky, awkward, this is never going to be good space– to muddle through the novel I’m loving writing, and just like that, the words returned.

To say I’m writing in scraps is a good explanation. I’m writing scenes, more like, but scenes that are all going somewhere. I wrote several today that occur near the end of the book, for example, while everything else I’ve written was nearer the front. I kept trying to force myself to see this writing process as something linear: I start with chapter one and just write forward! But that’s not how I write. I’m making all the parts and will need to add in the glue later.

For right now, I’m done with reading. I’m enjoying the space where instead of curling up with a book, I write, I have a dance party, I decorate my house for Christmas, I sing lots of songs loudly and badly, I remember that despite this seemingly record of rejection I’ve had this past month from literary journals and manuscript contests, I’m heading in the direction I want to go.

2013 Goals

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Last year, I made a set of writing goals for myself. Out of the five, I met two respectively and three if I’m fudging a bit. I got one of my fiction stories published. I got published in three of the journals my heart leaps for joy over ([PANK], CutBankand Third Coast), and I sort of kept up my writing ritual (this is the one I’d have to fudge on).

Here are my goals for 2013:

#1. Get my poetry manuscript, Swallow Tongue, accepted for publication. (Completing it in 2012 and having just done a major revision on it, this is a fantasy goal and may be on my goal list for years to come. Regardless, I want to put it out to the universe that it’s something I want and see what the universe has to say about it.)

#2. Get one of my creative nonfiction essays accepted for publication. (I was super surprised last year when in November, after working my butt off for a year editing and excising and submitting, I finally got notice that PANK had accepted one of my fiction stories for publication. A month and a day shy of 2013, but I still met that goal! Getting a fiction story published seemed like a nearly impossible goal, something I could only dream might happen. This year, I’m going to try the same with creative nonfiction. I wrote three essays in 2012 and with this goal in mind, I can definitely work on them and see what happens!)

#3. Write 30 50 poems. (Last year, I wrote 25 poems. This year I want to try for more. I also like that this goal has a specific number.)

#4. Submit high. (My submitting process is holding pretty steady, and I just want to continue to submit to journals that daunt me with how cool they are. Maybe one day I’ll grace their pages.)

#5. Do something special just for my writing. (While last year I set a goal to get into Bread Loaf, I probably won’t be applying this year. I need to reserve my vacation for spending time with my two best friends who happen to live in two different states. Maybe I’ll be able to attend a conference or a retreat, but I want to leave myself open to exploring other writing things, like doing a poem-a-day for some length of time, which I’ve never been brave enough to do before.)

While I didn’t meet all of my goals last year, I made some big strides, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this next year pans out.

What are your literary goals for 2013?

Weekly Update: Are we there* yet?

*”There” being loosely defined as “that magical place where stress goes to die.”

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The last time I wrote, it was the day before my first big manuscript ship-off. In the day before its deadline, I beat some poems into shape, barked at some other ones that needed to stay in line, and finally printed off a final version with the title pages/bio, etc. some of the contests required.

Then, I packaged them (for some reason, I chose five contests this year where all but one accept only mail submissions) and laid them on my kitchen table to mail in the early morning.

The next morning, I got up, got ready 30 minutes early to make sure I’d have enough time to get to the post office and to work. I put my laptop in my trunk and set my envelopes like precious cargo in my passenger seat. I got into the driver’s seat, put my key into the ignition and turned it. My car made a spluttering sound and the lights on the dash flickered, but the engine didn’t turn. I tried a couple more times for good measure, but nothing. My husband came home, gave me a jump, and we discovered my battery terminals were horribly corroded and I also needed a new battery.

I rushed to work, getting there exactly on time (amazingly). I panicked that I wouldn’t have any time to go to the post office to mail it for it to get that precious postmark right on schedule, but I thankfully had a break around 1:30 and was able to rush over and mail it off.

Now, come November 30th, I need to mail my manuscript off to two more contests, which means another run of printing and packaging and mailing that I should be doing now. After that, maybe, I’ll be able to give up the editing.

I’ve been in editing land since the first of November really. After thumping through Swallow Tongue, I cut down an essay and just yesterday discovered a short story I wrote in college that I want to go through and the first paragraph of a story I want to shape into something interesting. The problem with so much editing is that editing doesn’t have the same feeling of excitement or completion. I’m as familiar with the work as the inside of my own mouth, and I’m hacking away the excess.

I’m also at a loss for where to go from here. Swallow Tongue feels so complete at the moment, like it needs an extra poem as much as a person needs an extra knee. It could have an extra one, but it’d be weird. Even though I submitted Swallow Tongue to another contest before, I never felt like it was done. I kept writing poems and had the thought that maybe they’d go in a different version of the manuscript someday.

Now that the manuscript feels done, like publish-it-already sort of done, I don’t know what kind of poems to write anymore, and I’ve been stuck reading lovely ones and feeling like I have a bunch of kindling inside of me but not the right spark yet. 

Because my poet mind seems dormant, I’ve been looking more at my fiction. After getting that story accepted for publication, I finally had the thought, “Wow! I could maybe do that again!” and then I remembered that writing and working on fiction is painfully hard for me, like cutting wood outside in the cold until my fingers turn blue and ache yet I keep chopping…I don’t know what it is about it, but spending all that time in a chair working through a story seems agonizing to me. I really want to shake every fiction writer I meet and say, “DON’T YOU WANT A LIFE? WRITE A POEM FOR GOD’S SAKE AND FROLIC IN A MEADOW!”

Poetry and fiction are two very different beasts. I primarily write poems that tell a story, usually about some relationship. The longer I’ve been writing, the less narrative they’ve been and the more they’ve focused on language and word play. I’ve even been brave enough to play with the syntax a bit and make it a little more surreal. With fiction, on the other hand, I have to think about (imagine me grimacing while saying all of these words) character and plot and summary vs. scene, let alone all that space. I worked on the short story that finally got accepted for publication for about a year, a hard year of editing, sending it out, getting nice rejections, editing it again, sending it out, getting form rejections and some nice, editing, sending it out, getting more form rejections or nice rejections. I have trouble reasoning why someone would choose to spend all of their time on fiction. I can write a poem in a day, but I can’t conceive spending enough time at my computer to finish a draft of a story in a day (I’m slow probably).

Enough complaining about fiction. I’m not going to give up trying to write it anytime soon. I would probably like it a heck of a lot more if I was also writing poetry right now.

After sending off the manuscript, I went on a writing hiatus and then a vacay to Chattanooga, TN (which was lovely), but I couldn’t stop thinking about writing! why wasn’t I writing! that tree! it’s pretty! oh wow! more pretty trees! I should write about them! what about reading! what husband and great friends? read, read, read! no, not read, WRITE!

What is all this pointing at? There’s no such thing as a “break” from writing (how many times do I have to learn this lesson?), and I need to find that “spark” to get back into writing poetry. Prompts might be a good start. But, wait, not until after I send off these last two manuscript packets. grumblegrumblegrumble

May we all get there (see definition above) soon…(or if you’re already there, TELL ME YOUR SECRET!)

 

Busy Days

Another week has slipped by, and it’s Friday Saturday, no, Tuesday! I’ve been working on this entry for far too long now. University of Memphis started back last week, and it’s been strange to watch my fellow MFA-ers return to their studies and stresses without me. Some are teaching, some are working on The Pinch, some are just taking classes (and that’s quite enough).

I thought this time of year would hit me, and I’d go through another run of grief of, “oh no! My MFA is OVER!” Instead, I’ve felt so much relief. During my MFA, I was working/teaching at U of M, taking a full course load, writing, reading, and teaching at another school. Now, I can focus on just teaching and writing. No classes have to take. No homework. No teaching at more than one school. It’s comforting to know that I can write when I want to, and that I can set up a workshop group if I want to. I’m so grateful for my MFA experience, but I’m also so grateful for this break. Now, I can’t imagine putting myself through that high-intensity stress again. Maybe someday in the future, but definitely not soon.

Last week was a week of submitting. While I’d like to try to condense all of my submitting/reading/writing, etc. time into a two hour block on Friday mornings, I don’t think that’s possible. After my high of getting an acceptance from one of my dream journals, I was quickly brought down back to earth with two form rejections. So, I submitted one of my fiction stories to several journals last Monday (as I talked about here), and even sent out another 5 poetry submissions. Right now, I have 41 submissions out in the world. Many of them are more than 100 days old (the oldest being over 300 days old!), and many of them are personalized for the journal I was submitting to, so a lot of my work is currently out in the world.

No draft last week. Dealt with headaches galore as well as a whole mess of “this is what we have to do before we officially buy this house” kind of stuff. Hopefully, I can nail one down this week, but I also have this pile of poems I need to go back through and revise in the hopes of having new work to send out. On the upside, I received contributor interview questions from PANK Magazine and sent off my answers today. My first ever interview!

Hope you all had a no-labor kind of labor day. Those are certainly the best kind.

 

Mid-year Review

Back in January, I wrote a post about goals I’d like to complete in 2012, and after receiving some fantastic news on Friday, I decided to look back over them to see where I’m at with them.

Here they are:

#1: Get one of my fiction stories accepted for publication.

#2: Get published in one of the journals my heart leaps for joy over. 

#3: Get paid for one of my publications.

#4: Be accepted into Bread Loaf.

#5: Keep up my writing ritual.

Goals I’ve met:

  • On Friday, I got an acceptance e-mail from Third Coast for my poem “Hurricane Andrew” (draft notes here). I had made the decision this year to submit to journals even when I felt like they were too “above” me, so I had submitted to Third Coast, even though I had not even a speck of hope of being published in it. After my publication in [PANK]I had already met goal #2, but with this most recent acceptance, I can’t even explain the gleeful daze I’ve been wandering around in.
  • While I haven’t written a poem every week as I hoped I would, I haven’t completely forsaken it. I was glad to look through my entries on here and discover that now, 34 weeks into the year, after a surgery, finishing up requirements in order to be able to graduate, and a month of very little writing in Spain, I’ve drafted 19 poems. Not bad.

Goals I’ve not met:

  • I didn’t get into Bread Loaf. I did get a “nice” rejection, encouraging me to apply again next year, but no-go.
  • I haven’t gotten one of my fiction stories accepted for publication. Yet. Today, with renewed vigor, I sat down and revised a story I had been meaning to get to, and then sent it off to six journals.
  • I haven’t gotten paid for a publication yet either, so I submitted my fiction to some journals that do offer payment, and I’ll be researching some poetry journals I can submit to as well.

While I’d like to say that I’m so grounded that getting an acceptance or rejection wouldn’t have any effect on me, that’s just not the case. On my best days, I can log a rejection and move on. On my worst ones, I have to read a rejection two or three times and then check Rejection Wiki to make sure it’s “form” instead of “encouraging”. I walk around pouting and thinking strongly of reasons why I should give up writing forever and ever and ever. Right now, I’m going to try to hang onto my happy writing moments for as long as possible to buoy me past the not-so-happy ones (Perfect example! I just got a form rejection! Logged. Moving on.).

How are your writing goals going for 2012?

So…I’m in Spain

Richard Tillinghast, in his interview with The Pinch for the Spring 2012 issue, wrote that there is an intoxication that sets in when you visit a country for the first time. You’re amazed by the differences: the food, the architecture, the people, the languages. Those differences you see both help inform how you experience the place you’re in, while also giving you a different perspective on where you’ve come from. He said keeping a running journal as you’re walking around, jotting down thoughts, things, people, etc. you see, can read a little like poetry.

After writing a whole post on why writers should travel, I’m now practicing what I’m preached by staying a month in Spain for a creative writing study abroad program. I arrived in Madrid on June 1st, stayed there until June 3rd, and then took a train to Alicante, where I’ll be until June 28th.

Writing so far has been difficult. I’m very much out of my element. Writing worked best for me at 7 in the morning, coffee in hand. In Madrid, I had to first adjust to jetlag (which took a couple of days), and then I simply had no time because I had a limited window of time in the city and I HAD to run around and see everything (Best thing I saw: Picasso’s “Guernica.” Wow.).

Now, I’ve been in Alicante two days, and the class started yesterday. We have our first writing “assignment” due tomorrow, and we’ll see if something comes up. Spain works on a different set of time. They eat dinner late and wake up later, so 7 in the morning wouldn’t really work for me when we eat dinner at 8:30/9 at night. My host family’s home also only has WiFi in their living room, which means I’m around people or the TV is on whenever I’d be writing. I also don’t speak any Spanish, so it’s been hard for me to try to communicate with my host family, which is a really strange experience. Hopefully, I’ll pick up the language quickly.

I think I just need to fight against my conceptions of where I can be creative and Just.Be.Creative (this sounds like a bad name for a perfume…). This same experience happened when I was in Greece last year. I ended up jotting some things down and reading a lot, but I couldn’t write while I was there. Thankfully, the experiences soaked in and turned into some pieces later.

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In other news, I came here on a high of good news. MayDay Magazine accepted my poem, “The Family Pet” (which I unfortunately don’t have a draft process for). Front Porch Journal which I’ve been wanting to get into for some time now, e-mailed me to tell me they really liked some of my work that had been picked up by other journals and asked me to send in more ASAP. New York Quarterly also e-mailed me to tell me they had forwarded one or more of my poems  to the second tier editorial board for further consideration.

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I feel like I’m in the right place right now, and I’m curious to see what all will happen while I’m here. Have any of you traveled? What have been your experiences with it as it relates to your writing?