Thursday, July 26, 2007

A weekend away

I've been bumming about the fact that B and I aren't getting to go on our traditional, week-long do nothing vacation this August. We're both too busy, and my vacation time is in the negative. However, we are planning a few weekend trips, and tomorrow starts one of them. We'll be heading to a friend's cabin in the Adirondacks. There's a ton of people going, so it won't be a relaxing in solitude kind of trip, but it will be relaxing none the less. The cabin is on a lake in the mountains. Need I say more? The weather isn't looking too promising, but be it indoors or out, I plan to do a whole lotta nothing this weekend. Reading, knitting, drinking, swimming (not after drinking!), making s'mores. That's my to do list.

What are your favorite weekend get aways? Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Some writerly news

1- I am just about done with my new short story. I just have to insert some specifics about baking after I take my French Pastries class on Monday night. I'm really happy with it, though it's definitely a first draft, in all it's not-quite-there-yet glory. But I think I've found a voice that works for me, which is quite exciting.

2- I got a graduate assistantship. It's paid, and I will be working for the director of my MFA program to get their alumni newsletter up to snuff. It will be good experience working on a university's somewhat creative-writing based publication, and I will probably meet a bunch of great people who know a lot more about the writing world (and a lot more people in it) than I do.

3- I will also be serving as a teaching assistant to a creative writing class at Lesley. This is unpaid, and will serve as my Interdisciplinary Study class. I am thrilled to have the opportunity. The downside? The class that best fit into my work schedule meets at 8 am in Cambridge, Mondays and Wednesdays. This means I'll have to leave my house before 7. You know what time I normally get up on Mondays and Wednesdays? Around 8, and that's with a ton of prodding from my alarm clock and Bug. I am going to be one sleepy bug. I'll probably also be insanely stressed trying to balance all this. But I am also very happy and proud of myself, and I know the stress will be worth it. Best Blogger Tips

Monday, July 23, 2007

A strange "problem"

So this is my problem: I'm not devoting as much time to my writing as I am prepared to (and as I have in previous semesters), but it's still getting done. And I don't think it's any worse for the fact that I'm not writing for two hours straight a day. But that doesn't mean I don't feel guilty about it. I am reading a lot, but still... Any thoughts? Best Blogger Tips

Friday, July 20, 2007

Lesson #3: How to revise

As you may remember, I started out the month posting some lessons I
learned from my MFA residency. I stopped at #2 not because I only
learned two things, but because I forgot to blog about the rest. Here
we go again...

A.J.Verdelle led a two-session seminar on revision. The most useful thing I got out of the seminar was that revision should be methodical. It's funny because I am methodical when revising my writing for my day job, but not when revising my fiction. By methodical I mean that you should pick 15 or so areas that you want to work on in revision, and go through your manuscript 15 times, working on one area at a time. What should you focus on? Here are some suggestions:
1. Verbs. A.J. said that everyone should chose this as one of their 15 areas for every story. She suggested reading through your story, circling your verbs as you go. Then go back and look at just the verbs: you should be able to tell what's going on just by reading them. Edit out any "to be" verbs, "ing" verbs, and verbs in the distant past (ie "She was dancing", "she had been dancing." Change those to "she danced" for more immediacy.)
2. Redundancy: Look for places where you tell the reader or imply to the reader something he/she already knows. Cut those out.
3. Ask yourself: Does enough happen?
4. Ask yourself: Are the actions of the story clear enough? Are the places, people, things clear enough?
5. Watch for vague words such as it, one, someday, anyplace, something. Replace them with specifics.
6. Read your story aloud and edit for flow. (I would argue that everyone should do this for every story)

What are others that should be added to this list?

Another tip I found helpful was, before you revise ask yourself these three questions and answer them specifically. Then revise with the answers in mind:

1. Why did I write this story?
2. What story did I write?
3. Do I want to go with the story I wrote, or the story I had planned to
write? (As we all know, those are often very different things!) Best Blogger Tips

Friday, July 13, 2007

Sunday Scribbilings: Hair

I read the Sunday Scribbling prompt earlier today, and have been trying to think of a good hair-related tale from my past. This is what I came up with:

I studied abroad in London in the spring of my Junior year. That semester was one of the best times in my life--a whole new continent to explore, a houseful of (mostly) wonderful women, some of whom I'm still good friends with, classes that gave little homework, and no other responsibilities to distract me from my job of having fun and soaking up a new country. I had even left behind my husband (then my boyfriend of 6 months), who, while not a responsibility exactly, did take up a lot of time and energy. (Love ya, bug!)

Since Bug was an ocean away, and since we had decided to stay monogamously together despite that fact, I decided that I would stop shaving my legs, and wouldn't start again until Bug came to visit. It was cold in London in January, when I arrived, and it showed no promise of warming up before March, when Bug's trip was planned. So skirts were out anyway.

My legs itched a bit for the first weeks, not used to so much hair brushing against their skin. But after that, I loved my hairy legs. At the time, I couldn't have told you why, or even why I was trying this fashion experiment of sorts. But looking back I know that it was a small sign of the wonderful freedoms that go along with moving to a place where very few people know your name, let alone your personal hygiene habits.

I shaved a few days before Bug's visit (a small price to pay to see the man you love! And that's not to say he would ever force me to shave anything. But, for better or worse I do buy into the Western culture's view of leg hair just not being sexy on a woman). That night in bed in my nightshirt, it felt nice to let my smooth legs rub up against one another, with no stubble to get snagged on the pills of my tattered sheets. But what was nicer was knowing that, in ways big and small, this was the time to reinvent myself, to try on as many different hats (or hairstyles as it were) as I possibly could. Best Blogger Tips

What's next, a Knit-subishi?

This is one of my rare non-writing related posts. How can I not give a shout out to a woman who made a car. Out of yarn.
(Pardon the punny headline. I couldn't resist.) Best Blogger Tips

The joy of NOT publishing

I'm full of links lately. This one is to another blog by a British reporter who talks about her experiences with what I would call alternative publishing, ie printing stories out and making nice covers to give them as gifts to people. I should do more of this. She also opines that publishing with a big company is not be better than self publishing. I don't agree with her on that one--what writer doesn't want to have a novel on the bookshelves of real stores? But I do agree with her overall message--that writing should be done for self satisfaction, not necessarily to get published.

What do you think?? Best Blogger Tips

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Billy Collins reading

Click here to see Billy Collins read three poems. He's a bit nervous and awkward at first, which is sort of nice to see in someone as revered as he. But by poem two, I was mesmerized by his voice and the cadence of his words. I think I'm going to include a copy of the poem Lanyard in my mother's birthday card later this month. Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Research and happy accidents

I'm writing a story about a woman who goes to Paris to learn to make pastries. This desire has something to do with grieving her dead husband, though I'm not sure what. I have been a tad worried about writing about the class, since the closest I get to pastry making is throwing some ingredients in the bread machine.

Then, in an unrelated (or so I thought) quest, I went to the Boston Center for Adult Education's web site. I teach a class there, and as partial payment, I get to take a free class. I wanted to take dancing, but sadly none of those classes fit into my schedule. I searched for classes that meet on Monday nights, and lo and behold, there's a pastry making class! And not just any pastry--French pastry dough. Now that's what I call delicious research. Best Blogger Tips

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Some thoughts on endings

For my MFA, I have to write a 15 page paper devoted to one aspect of the craft of writing fiction. This isn't a research or scholarly paper, but rather a paper that delves into (hopefully) how a writer reads to improve her understanding of writing. I've chosen endings because I find them very tough to write.

Here are my current thoughts, which I plan to include in my essay. Any comments/ideas are more than welcome.

An ending must satisfy both the action plot and the emotional plot of the story. We must know what happens in the most basic sense (does he get the girl? do they make it home alive?) and also what happens emotionally to the character that changes him/her in whatever small or large way.

Studying a good ending is really like studying the whole story because the ending must be set up in so many different ways, starting with the title. Everything in the story, every character, every action, every symbol must lead to or point to the ending. Best Blogger Tips

Friday, July 06, 2007

Sunday Scribbilings: Slippery

Here's a very stream of consciousness take on this week's Sunday Scribblings' prompt, Slippery.

Slippery when wet, slippery=liar, slippery road, slippery slope, slippery soap, bubbles, sex, shower floors, flip-flops in the rain, ice, winter (which I've managed to pretend never existed and will never exist again), bare tires, frogs, eels, fish, any animal you're trying to catch, happiness. Best Blogger Tips

Backward schedule

Another semester, another schedule. Here we go:

July 6- 10
Find books that deal with the topic of ending a short story/work of fiction (Any ideas, bloggers?) Think about scenes/character of new story
Read Alice Munro's new book (View from Castle Island)

Week of July 10- July 16
Start writing 2 hours a day of story
Read next book, The Gifts of the Body

Week of July 16-23
Continue writing 2 hours a day of story
Read some stories from Lorrie Moore's Self Help

Week of July 23- 30
Come up with outline for essay on short story endings
Write/revise new story

Week of July 30 -Aug 6
Finalize prologue and outline for essay
Finalize short story Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Reality vs. residency

I'm taking a break from my "lessons" series to wonder aloud (or in type, I guess) whether I'm the only one who feels slightly paralyzed after residency. I learn so much each time I go, and I'm so excited to get to my work, but then reality sets in. First drafts are hard! And messy! I think during my week o' learning, I expect some lesson to come and cure the first draft craziness. It also is frustrating to know that you know more than you're able to get down on the page during a first draft that has to go to your mentor (especially when you are slightly enamored with your new mentor and you don't want to make an ass out of yourself in front of him). I guess the moral of this post is that no matter how many epiphanies I have, the process doesn't get easier. Sigh.... Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Lesson # 2: sentiment vs. sentimentality

My former mentor, Hester Kaplan, taught a wonderful lecture on how writers can get their readers to feel the characters' emotions without being sentimental about it. What's the difference between sentiment and sentimentality? Namely that sentimentality makes you feel something through the use of the narrator's voice not through the characters/events of the story, and sentiment means you feel something legitimately through experiencing the characters/events of the story. Sentiment creates a thought or view that arises out of good descriptions and characters, whereas sentimentality manipulates the reader's emotions through highly charged imagery that ellicits unearned feelings.

How do you avoid sentimentality but ellicit sentiment?
1- Use specific images and situations, not general/abstract ones.
2- Don't rely on adjectives
3- Don't rely on cliches or hackneyed subject matter
4- Don't tell the reader what to feel, let him/her experience feelings along with the character.
5- Use events/images that surprise your reader.

An exercise: Write about falling in love in a way that is not sentimental. I will tackle this in a future post. Best Blogger Tips

Monday, July 02, 2007

Lesson 1: First person narration

This is the first of a series of posts on what I learned in my MFA week at Lesley. These posts are mostly to help me synthesize what I learned, but I hope they prove helpful to other writers out there, too!

A new faculty member, Marcie Hershman, taught a great seminar on first-person narration. The main things I learned are:

* With first person-stories, there are two stories going on: there's the story of the person telling the story (Why is he/she choosing to tell this story? Why is it meaningful to him/her?) and the story of the people/events being described. The story of the narrator must be underneath the plot story. Otherwise, the story should be told in third person.

* In that way, there should be many layers to a first-person story

* The writer should remember that the "I" narrator is selective over what information he/she gives the reader, and he/she has control over that information.

*The "I" narrator immediately conjures a personality and character. Best Blogger Tips

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Sunday Scribbilings: What's your sign?

My birthday was two days ago, which means that I'm a Cancer. According to, cancers are:

Emotional and loving
Intuitive and imaginative
Shrewd and cautious
Protective and sympathetic
Changeable and moody
Overemotional and touchy
Clinging and unable to let go

I don't follow my horoscope. I can't believe that what someone predicts in a newspaper can somehow apply to me and the millions of other people who are born in the same month as I. That said, the Cancer description pretty much sums me up. The only trait on the list I'd question is shrewd and cautious. But overemotional and touchy? You got me there, horoscope. Best Blogger Tips

I'm back!

This third MFA residency was the best yet. I learned more than I thought possible in a week's time, reconnected with my buddies, and got reinvigorated about writing. The moral? A whole lotta good can come from one little week when it's jam packed with writing, reading, and friends talking about writing and reading.

I'll soon post some of the lessons I learned, including some thoughts on revision, different ways to make writing "astonishing," and how to end a short story. Stay tuned! Best Blogger Tips