Archive for the ‘writing life’ Category


But why should I be dragging my feet so much about completing applications for summer residencies?  I will do myself the courtesy of assuming it’s not pure laziness.  Something is snagging me and if I think I know what it is, I can move forward.  (I have about two hours left this afternoon before I have to venture out to run a couple of errands on the way to pick up the Snork Maiden.)

Possibility: Is it long-shot-application syndrome–the reluctance to sink time and effort and commitment into applying, knowing that the odds are against getting it?  That’s often been in play, but the process has paid off a few times–not in the last several years, true, but enough that I know that the long shot sometimes finds its target.  Still, it’s not pleasant to get all worked up over something when you know the odds are against it.

Course of action: Focus on what’s in my control: completing the application as well as possible (and on time, of course).  Small, manageable goals (I already have a checklist of tasks: update CV, revise statement, etc.).

Possibility: Am I avoiding the never-psychologically-comfortable condition of explaining why I am so very deserving of these opportunities, how much I need the time and peace they provide?  Poor-mouthing is unpleasant, but necessary in this process to some extent.  And I know I’m never satisfied for long with one narrative of my life–there’s always some part of me that knows there’s more to the story, another way of telling it.

Course of action: Treat it like any other writing task.  Think about this audience, this story. Make the best case for why, this time, it should be me.

These seem like the two most likely roadblocks–I really can’t think of any others right now unless you count the problem of sitting, and that is addressed by stretching and standing.  All right, here we go again.

A reading of life

So while I know I’ve mentioned writing Morning Pages for the last six months, I don’t think I have mentioned that I decided to embark on the twelve-week program of The Artist’s Way.  I am giving myself permission to do it in a fairly haphazard manner, but I’ve gotten a lot out of it nevertheless, even in just a few weeks.  It has probably helped that I have liked the practice of Morning Pages so much.

I’m now in Week 4, the week of reading deprivation.  I hadn’t heard of this aspect of the program before Jackie commented on it on this post, at which time it sounded terribly daunting.  It is terribly daunting.  Cameron says most people resist it and claim they can’t possibly stop reading for a week.  I think it helps me that I’ve been binge-reading so much for the past month–I’m aware of how much I’ve been disappearing into books, and how much easier it is to read than to do so many other things.

This is a good week to do it, too, as I have a lot of stuff to take care of before we go away:

  • manuscript #2 revision push (had a little breakthrough on this and am aiming for a full revision by August 16)
  • a new poem slouching toward Bethlehem to be born
  • house and life stuff (continued decluttering, bills, try to get a better deal on car insurance, fill out the remaining forms on the medical-information website SA is now using to track students’ health and emergency info)
  • social stuff (lunch with someone for whom I used to TA, in town working at Fancy Research Library–although we might meet at GU instead; one more trivia night; a couple of engagements for the Snork Maiden; trying to get together with Elinor while she’s in town)

It feels very weird not to be able to default to picking up a book.  It feels different inside my head.  I think this is probably a good thing.

I do need to take about eight books back to the library, some of which I never got very far into, but that’s really okay.


Lesson plans

So what did I learn from doing almost half of NaNoWriMo?  (My word count on November 30 was 22,230 words, almost all of that written before November 20.)

Well, let’s review.  I said (here and here)  that what I wanted was:

  1. to be thinking about writing all the time
  2. to spend more time writing
  3. to wrench a big chunk of time back from a) work and b) aimless Net surfing
  4. to write to understand something I didn’t really understand
  5. to write without self-censoring
  6. to be able to read a messy novel draft written by me

Those things have been great.  So what I learned is mostly that I want to, and can, do more of them.  Except for #6, because I really am not a novelist.

Here are the big takeaways:

  1. If I can write 1500-1800 words of messy fiction most evenings without really missing the time too much, I can make better use of the evening hours than I usually do when I’m just sitting and staring at the computer.  I have tended to dismiss that time as low-focus time, time to recover from the day, but apparently I can focus some–I can produce instead of being a passive receptor.  I have also tended to think it is not good time for writing poetry, but I might be wrong about that.  Perhaps I should think of it as good time for writing bad drafts–and bad drafts have always been an integral part of my process.  It is also possible that this time could be used well for other low-focus work, such as small decluttering projects.  Anyway, I’m not saying I’m never going to sit and surf in the evenings, but I’m going to look at the evening hours as time to do something meaningful, even if some nights it’s watching a TV episode with the Snork Maiden, some nights it’s cleaning off a shelf, and some nights it’s working on a poem.  I like the way I’ve been forced to examine the default of going on the computer–I can see it’s also been pushing out other forms of recreation, like knitting and reading novels.
  2. Measurements, goals, and accountability are still very helpful for me.  Having that word count to shoot for, having a pal (PymFan, who also did a lot of NaNoing!) to check in with, having an overall goal and crawling toward it in increments–I definitely respond to all of these things.

I did surf and read some during NaNo, just not quite as much as usual, and one of the things I read was an “as told to” with Nicholson Baker in Salon:

But the thing that I found about writing is it’s wonderfully wasteful and that’s part of the usefulness of it. If you write every day, you’re going to write a lot of things that aren’t terribly good, but you’re going to have given things a chance to have their moments of sprouting. After hearing something, you’ll notice something and you’ll write three lines about that and then you’ll let it molder and you’ll forget it. The next time you return to that, you’re already at take one, and take two can expand on that and so even though it’s wasteful, because I write, you know, thousands of pages of stuff that doesn’t ever see the light, it helps me think and it helps me figure out what I actually do want to say in public.

So as the days grow shorter, and the school year accelerates madly toward winter break (which happens in three weeks!), I’m simply going to set myself the task, for December, of using those evening hours mindfully, and of keeping a record of how I use them.  I do have various deadlines this month, and it’s not a good time to plunge into a NaNo-style big goal or project, so my first step is just to make small changes, and observe.

On Monday, for example, the Snork Maiden and I won’t get home until around 7, after her sax lesson.  I’ll want to go online and check my email and Facebook, but maybe first I’ll draft a bad poem, and maybe afterwards I’ll clear off one small shelf.  And whatever I do, I’ll write it down.


Hi, friends!  Thanks for your supportive comments about the end of my Lucinda-substituting and the beginning of my possibly foolhardy involvement in NaNoWriMo.  Let me be clear that I do expect to be getting more sleep (this weekend has been a good start), and I anticipate a healthier balance all around.  So far, actually, I’m quite happy with the decision to do NaNo.  Here’s why:

  1. I’m writing between 75-120 minutes a day.
  2. I’m writing just for myself.  I have no plans to show it to anyone
  3. I’m writing to understand something I don’t totally understand.  It’s a novel about relationships, and I’m interested in relationships, but there’s much I don’t understand about them.  I have done pretty much all of my good writing in order to explore things I don’t understand, so this feels very comfortable to me.
  4. I’m hardly self-censoring at all.  I’m barely self-editing, in fact; I’ll write something, think “Wow, that came out kind of dumb,” and then just keep plowing along.  One of the things about being a poet is that every little decision matters so much to the finished poem.  I really do perseverate about putting a comma in and taking a comma out.  I love doing that, but I am not good at just opening the gate and letting everything out.  I have to give myself explicit permission to do that.  And when I do, I find that I can do this:
  5. I’m writing my way to some scenes that I’m absolutely fascinated by.  I’ve written some things that I think are true, but I’ve never said or thought or written them before.  I’m being reminded that you really don’t know what you think until you try to express it.  And if I’m not happy with how I’ve expressed it, see #2.
  6. I am doing some silly stuff that, if I were thinking about publishing this, I would have to keep myself from doing.  Rock-music epigraphs for the chapters, for example–what a pain it would be to get the permissions!  And I’m also describing my main character’s dreams, and am completely fascinated making up her dreams–but I can do this without imagining what some future reviewer would say about how boring it is to hear about other people’s dreams, let alone a fictional character’s!  But again, see #2.  As long as I’m interested, who cares!
  7. So far, this project is really only sucking up time that I would have spent screwing around, anyway.  And, unlike grading and planning, I seem perfectly happy to work on it in smallish increments of fifteen minutes and then another fifteen minutes, so it works well as something to do before school, or after school while waiting for the Snork Maiden to get out of rehearsal, or after dinner (as I’ve mentioned, I am close to useless for regular work in the evenings, but I can, apparently, write mediocre prose for my own enjoyment).  We’ll see if I can maintain it during the regular school week that lies ahead.

So, what else is going on?  I need to do some general tidying and laundry this evening.  Tomorrow:  three classes, some free periods for planning and revising a test and starting to set up observations (which I should begin toward the end of the week).  A meeting after school–one of those committees that I now have to attend–and then taking the Snork Maiden to her sax lesson.  Just the usual stuff, as long as there are no emergencies…


Just a quick update: I did not, after all, get the Thing this year.  I am consoled somewhat by the thought that next year might actually be an even better time to get the Thing, so I’ll definitely reapply.  And I’m pleasurably distracted by the prospect of planning the summer, which is easier now that I know, at least, about the Thing, even though it didn’t come out the way I wanted.

Meanwhile, the first week back after spring break has kind of been kicking my ass, but things are mostly pretty good at school.  The Snork Maiden and I have a short trip this weekend, which should be fun.  She’s going to take a weekend class, and I’m going to see a couple of friends.


Beyond recognition

A writer I know on Facebook, but not very well, just posted “I love when friends get good news!”–not identifying the friend or the news–and I’m suddenly convinced that someone she knows got the Thing I’m (still) waiting to hear about.  This is entirely possible, but of course there are lots of kinds of good news, right?  Except this sounds like the kind of good news you’re not supposed to tell until it’s officially announced, right?  In which case, stay the hell off Facebook.  Seriously.




Not a peep about the Thing yet.  The indication was that a decision was expected soon, but of course “soon” is relative.  I’ve been taking advantage of the break to do some preliminary summer planning anyway, since the  summer’s two major events are likely to happen more or less the same way whether the Thing happens or not.  The Snork Maiden’s summer plans are also up in the air, so we have two fixed events and at least two big question marks.

One of the major events is a conference in the UK, so we’re looking at a trip of perhaps two weeks, for one of which Stubb will be able to join us.  I wish we could stay longer and wander more–this will be my first trip out of North America since the year before the Snork Maiden was born–but I don’t think we will have enough funds or enough time.  I’m enjoying starting to rough out those plans, though.  I will ask SA for some support–maybe they would be willing to cover the conference fees and lodging, if not the transatlantic plane ticket.

Stars in their courses

I just mentioned this on the writing group, so I figured I’d cross-post over here: I learned this week that I’m a finalist for a thing I applied for.  This thing would happen in the summer, and I would love to do it.  I’ll probably hear pretty soon whether I got it or not.

It’s nice to be a finalist–to know that my work made it to that stage.  I have had a couple of very good publications recently, but things feel very quiet on the second-book front.  The manuscript is out at nine contests and with two editors; so far this year I’ve heard about one contest that it didn’t win and heard back from one press with a nice note that said, essentially, we can tell this is good, but it’s not for us.

If I don’t get the Thing this year, I will definitely apply for next year–it’s a thing I could do almost any summer.  I do want it for this year, though.  Lesson to carry forward: apply for summer things–residencies, colonies, conferences or workshops.  With NLNRU ending, summers will be more open than they have been, even with my new administrative responsibilities; I should take advantage of that, so that when I come back in August, I can really see how the additional time has supported my writing.

The group

A few months ago, a friend invited me to join her writers’ group, which was then meeting on Mondays, my teaching night, but was scheduled to move to Wednesdays after the new year.  So I’ve been subscribed to the group’s email list for a couple of months, but it wasn’t until this week that I got to attend and actually meet about ten of the women.  (I think the total membership might be fourteen or fifteen, but it’s probably pretty unusual for everyone to make it.)

This group reads and critiques one another’s work, but it is also a support and brainstorming group.  People are working on all kinds of different projects–one woman had just had an offer from a publisher for her social science book, another spoke about some issues with the memoir she’s ghostwriting, and another read the first five pages of a short story.  The atmosphere was friendly and welcoming.

I have a good feeling about this.

Don’t let the pigeon stay up late

I finally have my NLNRU class on Monday nights, and it’s definitely better than having it midweek.  I do get a little behind on sleep at the beginning of the week, but I also have a chance of catching back up.  I’d rather be a little blurry on Tuesday than bone weary on Thursday/Friday.

You guys, I did not tell you that some months ago I was invited to apply for a big-ass prize, but I am telling you now that I found out I didn’t get one.  As long as some real jerk didn’t get one (which I won’t know for a while), I am okay with this, I guess.  I sulked for about a day and now I’m done.

I’m so grateful for Dame Eleanor‘s writing group.  I’m setting very small, manageable writing goals, and meeting them most of the time.  The weekly check-in is invaluable.

Wednesday at SA, we’re administering the PSAT.  This means that I go in and proctor the test in the morning with my homeroom group, and then have the afternoon free to prep and grade.  I’m right on the fence about going to NLNRU.  On the one hand, it is a convenient day to go, and an opportunity to log some face time.  On the other, I don’t really have to go.  I could stay right at my desk and write instead.

I should do that, right?