Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Year in Review

I feel lucky to have a birthday smack dab in the middle of the calendar year. It gives me an opportunity to reflect every six months--in January at the start of the New Year, and in June at the start of my New Year.

I read back on this post regarding my Writing Action Plan for 2009, and I'm happy to say I'm on track: I'm working on the ole novel, and have 2 stories I'm sending out (and getting a lot of rejection notices on...). I sent in a query to NPR, and also got a rejection. But hey, I sent it! So I'm trying at least. I attended Grub Street's Muse and the Market Place (and will post about it soon... better late than never, no?).

I have also recently begun some volunteer activities, which I'm quite proud of. I'm going to start tutoring some ESL students in Brockton (a nearby town that has a big immigrant population) in July, and I've contributed time and seedlings to a garden plot whose produce will go to a food pantry.

Speaking of gardening, I'm taking time to do a lot of it. I'll post some pics (including one of a basil leaf as big as my hand!) as soon as I can find the damn cord that connects the camera to the computer.

There is still much I'd like to do in 2009:
1. Publish a story,
2. Get a second draft of most, if not all, of my novel
3. Do NaNoWriMo in November
4. Get one more story finalized and into send-out rotation.

But all in all, the first half of 2009 has been a mostly happy, mostly productive time, which is all I can ask for really. Best Blogger Tips

Friday, June 26, 2009

Another (nice) rejection

I got yet another rejection, this one seems to be one of the more encouraging kind that said they enjoyed my work, but can't publish it. If I didn't already have more artistic designs for my home office, I could start wallpapering it with rejections. Sigh.

I think it's time for me to review the stories I've been sending out again, to see if I need to tweak them. I'll also hit up a few of my literary friends who haven't read these pieces yet to see if they have any feedback. If you have interest in doing that, dear readers, please leave me a comment and I would be delighted to email them to you.

Happy weekend--hope it's rejection free! :) Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Two good quotes

I'll let them speak for themselves:

When I look at all the writers who have won coveted prizes and all the filmmakers and artists who have had success, what I notice is that they are the ones who actually filled out the applications for fellowships and sent their work around for critique and rejection; they are the ones who locked themselves in rooms and worked at it; they are the ones who did what was required; they are the ones who allowed themselves to be beginners and to begin at the beginning and do the next obvious thing.
~Cary Tennis of Salon.com

"Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it. Establish your priorities and go to work." -- H. L. Hunt Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Feeling disconnected from writing

I spent some time yesterday organizing my submissions chart, and doing so made me realize how disconnected I'm feeling from writing. I think a huge part of it is because I'm training for a triathlon. Crazy, I know. A friend talked me into it, and it's been fun, but time consuming. I am hoping that this training will make me feel super duper fit. That's my real goal. And finishing, no matter how long it takes me.

But anyway. Back to writing. All this training has taken time and energy away from it. I need to refocus, though, cause I'm really missing it. And I feel like (to use a sport's metaphor) I'm running in place in terms of my submissions and revisions.

I don't have a specific goal in mind here, other than to just get myself re-connected. That'll probably mean writing some pages of the novel (and hopefully get to 30 by June 30), taking a look at the two stories I've been sending out that have been getting rejected left and right, working on my Real Simple essay, and editing down a short short for submission.

How do you reconnect to writing (or your other passions) when you feel your attention waning? Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

When did you first realize you're a grownup?

PoetMom challenged me to enter this essay contest. And you all know how I love a challenge! The theme of the essay needs to be: When did you first realize you're a grownup?

I've been brainstorming, and I've decided to go with the time I took care of my parents while my mother was in the hospital. I say "took care of my parents" because my dad needed more attention than my mom, since he was so scared.

Here's info on the contest. Even if you're not going to enter, it's an interesting question to think about. Leave a comment about when you realized you were a grown-up.

When did you realize that you had become a grown-up? Perhaps it was when you
first paid taxes or met your son’s first girlfriend. Whether the experience was
difficult, funny, easy, or bittersweet, share your lesson and you could win.

Enter Real Simple’s second-annual Life Lessons essay contest and you could have
your essay published in Real Simple; win round-trip tickets for two to New York
City, hotel accommodations for two nights, tickets to a Broadway play, and a
lunch with Real Simple editors; and receive a prize of $3,000. Best Blogger Tips

Monday, June 15, 2009

Next scenes

In the spirit of getting back into the 30 pages/30 days challenge, here is a list of scenes I want to write. I'm not sure if they'll make it into the novel, but they will certainly inform my understanding of the characters and backgrounds:

** Emily (the protagonist) and her sister Carrie as kids, at home before their parents got divorced. What was the relationship like between her parents? What did Em understand about it, at the time and in retrospect? What did the house smell and look like? How close were Em and Carrie as children?

** The family vacation that scarred Carrie (I won't give away how on the blog!). What does Em remember of it? What did that house look, feel, smell like?

** Emily and Carrie in Boston together as adults. They don't share an apartment, but they hang out all the time. What do they do together? What is there relationship like? What are their exchanges like?

I'm sure I can get 23 pages out of these! Best Blogger Tips

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Check in: A page a day in June

I love deadlines, even self imposed ones. Without a deadline, I get very little done. So I jump on the chance to do writing challenges, such as NaNoWriMo (the challenge is to write 50,000 words of a novel in one month. And it's why I was excited that BostonErin posted a smaller but similar challenge on her blog recently: Write a page a day in June.

I learned of the challenge on June 4, so I was already handicapped. Then, I was away at a science writing fellowship for 5 more days after that, which left little time for writing of the creative kind. But the road to not writing is paved with "life came up" type excuses, so I am determined to get back on track.

Today, when I had many excuses not to write (the most urgent being that I was hung over), I managed to get down 6 pages! Add that to the one page I had written before now, and I'm at 7--count 'em, 7--pages.

What's that you say? It's June 14th, which means I'm 7 pages behind? P-shaw. That's nothing. I'm a cram-at-the-end deadline-loving gal. Best Blogger Tips

Friday, June 12, 2009

Podcasts on Writing

I just came across this blog, which is by a writer named Tim Lemire. It features podcasts of Tim reading mini essays on various aspects of writing.
I just listened to one about writing processes, and how even though famous authors may make it sound like there is one way to write (ie, using a yellow notepad while in bed at 6 a.m.), everyone has to experiment to find the method that works for them. I found it a fun and informative listen. Give the blog a try, and let me know what you think! Best Blogger Tips

Thursday, June 11, 2009

An essay in Tweets about working at the New Yorker

I seem to be on a New Yorker kick. Here's an interesting article by Dan Baum about his experience writing for the New Yorker, which ran as a series of Tweets (which is a medium I have yet to understand the point of, but that's a topic for another post). I love hearing about writers' lives and experiences, and I was especially interested since the New Yorker is, of course, the creme de la creme. Baum also very generously posts on his web sites the article queries that got him into the New Yorker and other mags, and the ones that got rejected. What a model of helping aspiring writers! Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Can Writing Be Taught?

Poetmom posted a link to this interesting New Yorker article on MFA program. It talks about the question of whether writing can be taught, and if not, then what is the point of MFA programs in the first place?

The piece is a reaction to a recent book called "The Program Era" by Mark McGurl, which talks about the huge rise in MFA programs in recent history (which, I learned through the article, was first due to the fact that WWI Vets could only get government money for degree programs, so MFA programs sprouted up as a way for vets to take creative writing classes for free).

Here is my reaction to the article. I'd love to hear yours, too!

First, the question of whether writing can be taught. I think writing takes three things:
1. Stick-to-it-iveness. Writing is hard and lonely, and often filled with rejections. You've got to have immense perseverance not to give up. Oh, and did I mention that writers are usually not paid for their work, or at least not up front, while they're actually doing it?

2. Talent/creativity.

3. Knowledge. Knowledge about literature, about the structure of a story/novel/poem, about what works and what doesn't.

Of these three, number 1 is most important, in my mind. I don't think you can make someone be more dedicated, or more "sticky". But talking about how much perseverance writing takes can help people realize every writer feels like writing is a tough, tough thing that they occasionally want to give up on. That can be an invaluable lesson.

Number 2, inspiration, can't be taught. It can be given room to blossom, but that's different than teaching someone how to have talent or be creative.

Number 3, knowledge about writing and literature, can certainly be taught. I came out of my MFA program with much more knowledge on these subjects that's one of the things I came out of my MFA program that I did not have going in.

What's also discussed in the article is the things outside of learning to write that one gets from an MFA program. From my MFA experience, the most important were:

**The ability to make my writing a priority. As the New Yorker writer, Louis Menand, put it, "to actually write stuff (as opposed to planning to write stuff very, very soon)."

**A sense of community, and some of the best friends I'll probably ever have. Again, to quote from the article, (this from a part where Menand talks about his own experience studying poetry): "I just thought that this stuff mattered more than anything else, and being around other people who felt the same way, in a setting where all we were required to do was to talk about each other's poems, seemed like a great place to be." Amen to that. Best Blogger Tips

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Two new goals

I've got two writing goals to announce:
1- Write a page a day in the month of June. This is inspired by the lovely and talented BostonErin.

I plan to write scenes from the novel I'm working on. I'm not going to worry about where exactly in the book the scenes will go just yet.

2- Get chapters one through three edited and in descent shape by August, when I'll meet up with two of my wonderful, wonderful writing buddies for a 5-day-writing/editing/critiquing-retreat on a lake in Canada.

I'm also hoping these challenges will inspire blog posts and get me back into the habit of writing here, but we'll see... Best Blogger Tips