Tuesday, December 22, 2009

early morning writing

By the light of Christmas lights.

I woke up with a couple of lines of story in my mind. One snippet of dialogue and an idea. I laid there thinking Remember this for the morning and then I remembered all the other times I said to myself Remember this for the morning because bed was toasty and eyelids were heavy. And what happened then? Too much was lost.

So I got up and turned on the Christmas lights and sat in bed with my notebook propped on a pillow while my husband slept. I knocked out three pages before getting to a big question and decided to leave What happens next? for another writing session. I laid back, closed my eyes and kept thinking about my new story.

Sometimes I get story ideas on top of one another and so I'm writing two or three (even four) stories at a time. I don't know that I really like that. That approach seems like it could lead to a lot of so-so work. But when an idea strikes, I'm also not too keen on saying Later. I've got something else to finish first. Perhaps these new ideas are telling me to hurry up and wrap up the story that has been draaaggging on and on and start something fresh. Or perhaps I just need a diversion so that I can get a break from thinking too much about one story.

I just finished my sub job and am antsy for January when I'll be more disciplined about my writing. Right now I'm traveling and with family for the holidays so writing time is here and there when I can grab it. I think that's fine. Every part of me is resting this break: the teaching part, the writing part, the running part. I am enjoying a rest. But my mind keeps waking me up with ideas.

Don't I love it, though.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Yesterday I listened to an episode of PRI's To the Best of Our Knowledge. The show is titled "Channeling Creativity" and I found the first segment to be especially interesting: cartoonist and writer Lynda Barry talks about overthinking and creativity. I was saying "yes, yes" to much of what she said. She spent nine years (I hope I'm remembering correctly) writing a novel because she felt that she needed to know everything that was going to happen to her characters before she wrote it out. After immense frustration she sat down and wrote her novel longhand (no delete key to second guess what comes!) and finished in less than one year.

I too am finding that I enjoy the writing process more when I sit with an open notebook. I am also wary of guessing too much of the story before I actually write it. My first creative writing professor had us do a character exercise in which we listed everything about a character we were working with: favorite color, favorite sandwich, elementary school memories, broken bones, crushes, ambitions, on and on and on until I really hated my character because there was nothing more for me to be surprised by when I wrote. I like the details that reveal themselves only a word or a sentence before their placement, when it suddenly makes perfect sense that Elliot wears an Army surplus jacket or Janet hates the feel of a knife slicing through raw chicken.

In the third segment of the show, Geoffrey Colvin, author of Talent is Overrated talked about late bloomers and how we cannot always predict success based on talent at a young age. This segment reminded me of some ideas in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers and also of two articles featured in the same November 2008 issue of Psychology Today, "Confessions of a Late Bloomer" by Scott Barry Kaufman and "Better Late than Never" also by Kaufman but featuring five different late bloomers.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

and the winner is...

Short story collection.

That's my book.

I have one story that is finished (save a final proofread, which makes it not quite finished or, not mincing words: unfinished). Okay. I have one story that is almost finished. I have two stories that still need a lot of help (third drafts by indecision) and one more story that is well on its way to a finished first draft. Is that enough to say I'll make my book a short story collection?

I say it is. Because this is all new to me.

Monday, December 7, 2009

patron, where art thou?

I remember talking about teaching creative writing in a methods class in college; the discussion quickly turned to our own creative writing. When would we have time to write - really write - once we were in a classroom? Would we even want to write after a day of discussing Romeo & Juliet four times in a row or reading bland essays?

Early on in the classroom, I decided to write my own assignments. For my first year of teaching (and most of my second and third, too), these snippets of essays, stories, and poems were my only writing. I'd write examples and have fun with the start, but rarely have the time or creative energy to finish. That is part of the reason this Year of the Book project was born: I need to learn to see my writing through to the end. Finish. The End.

But the truth is that teaching literature and language arts saps me. I enjoy it, but it's tiring. Teachers understand. You read and reread what you're teaching. You're always looking up vocabulary or finding background or answering questions or settling quibbles about group work or whatever million other little daily things that are teaching. So now I am subbing a sophomore English class until the holiday break and find myself ready for January when, subbing and Christmas travel past, I'll be able to turn my attention again to the stories I've left simmering on the back burner. I only hope I don't lift the lid to find a scorched meal.

I think this subbing stint is telling me quite a bit about my own ambitions. A professor I respected very much told me I should go on to grad school and that he'd write me a letter for a writing program. I was too tired to think of applying. I thought: I'll teach for a couple of years and then go. But I haven't made it there yet. I'm okay with that, but I also know that I would eat those workshops up and ask for more: I want to become an excellent writer.

Another professor posed the question to all of us writers: Should you just take a job that allows you to write? Meaning, should you work at a job that doesn't drain you mentally or creatively so that you are always ready to write? If I were to take that sort of job, I'd deliver papers. I really would. (If it also paid the bills).

But I took a job that that does tire your mind with the learning and decisions. And now, after returning to teaching for the briefest time, after tasting what it's like to have time and mental space to actually write as an at home mama: well, what do I want?

I want a patron, that's what I want!

But I guess you don't get a patron if you haven't painted a collection first. Here's to January!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

blogland wallflower

Okay. I had a rant going, but I deleted it. Lately, I've been struck by the narcissism of blogging. I started this blog to chronicle tackling a Book. But I didn't want to feel like I was writing in near isolation. In my mind I thought: I'll find an online writing community and we'll all be friends. I'll read yours, you'll read mine. We'll post comments and swap first drafts and do each other's hair.

Except that I'm a terrible bloggy friend. I don't read more than a dozen or so blogs and (I'll admit) a few of those I read only occasionally because I cannot fathom why they remain popular despite being packed with misspellings and exclamation points. No, I am not naming names. You probably read a few like that yourself. Sometimes I read a blog religiously for months and then forget about it for months. Sometimes I don't comment. I might have a comment, but I don't post it. Terrible, terrible bloggy friend.

But if I'm not going to go batty posting in isolation with a few stray comments from friends and family (much, much appreciated by the way, since otherwise I'd really feel silly posting anything on this site), I think I need to stalk some other writers and read their blogs. I'm a blogland wallflower but every now and then, I'd like a dance.

So to those of you that are reading (I think I know of three or four, officially), please, please keep reading. I will endeavor to become a better blogger with regular posts (maybe even a consistent two a week!?) and I will go find other writers in blogland and share their blogs here. I'm thinking campfire songs and s'mores.

P.S. Short story ideas continue to come. I'm still writing about the ten-years-later idea. I think this book might be a way to exorcise all of my past personal misgivings (because I have none in the present, right?), which means it will promptly be put in a shoebox under the bed.