Thursday, June 3, 2010

summer writing goals

1. Write a minimum of thirty minutes a day, five days a week

2. Find a consistent time of the day to write

3. Go on a writing date twice a month: leave the house to purposefully give myself two or three hours of write time

4. Revise at least seven short fiction pieces by 31 July - my Book Project

5. Find other writers' blogs that inspire, encourage, and challenge me as a writer

Friday, May 14, 2010

will write for time

I have four weeks left in the semester and I think of this as a countdown not to summer vacation, but to writing time. I am still determined to have a book length collection of short stories (all revised, some publishable) by the end of July. At that point I think I may turn my attention to submission, putting my work out there for rejection rejection rejection acceptance.

I continue to write in sad, sorry little spurts. The majority of my writing either journaling, essay writing, or creating short assignment examples for my students. Fiction is simmering. Once in awhile I lift the lid and give it a stir, but I'm aching for day in the kitchen.

Perhaps I am back to one of my old habits of saying no to writing time if it's short. Truth is, I can write in bits and be happy to fill a page with my own handwriting. But for fiction, I do need a chunk of time. I cannot jot a conversation between two characters in the twenty minutes I have before dinner or after my daughter's bath. For fiction, to hear and see my characters and get a feel for what their situation is, I need time to immerse. Stare into the middle distance. Cross out a line on my page and then rewrite it. Cross it out again. Cry when I get to a sad part. Say a piece out loud to hear how it sounds. Reread. Add margin notes. All of that. The writing time I have is choppy and not what I need to write fiction.

I hope for better news in four weeks. Then I will have to jump into a disciplined schedule. I will have to beg my characters to cooperate with me so that I can manage to write this book.

Monday, March 15, 2010

writing about work

I just read a NY Times article about writers getting back to work, or getting back to writing about work. Here is an excerpt from Jennifer Schuessler's article "Take This Job and Write It":

And in The Telegraph of London, John Lanchester, who took a break from novel-writing to research “I.O.U.,” his new primer on the financial crisis, asked why fiction tended to "break down" in the face of the complex modern economy. Work has become central to many people’s self-­conception, Lanchester noted. So why, in novels, does it tend to be “as much a marginal detail of a character’s life as her hair color”?

Really interesting point there.

Early on in my teaching career, I read a memoir about a teacher's first five or seven years on the job and all of the schools he taught at and his memorable colleagues and students.* But that was a memoir.

I think I could have more fun writing a novel, fictionalizing some of the real parts of my teaching career and what I've observed, smashing people together into characters. A novel would allow an honesty I'm not sure I could be comfortable sharing if I talked shop in a memoir. I'm going to think about this - writing about teaching. I'm in the middle of teaching right now, collecting stories. Inspiring, irreverent, irrelevant.

*I searched "teacher memoirs" on Amazon and didn't recognize the title or author there. Then again, I didn't go through all 568 results either. It was a good book, but not amazing. If I dig around and find it later, I'll post the title and author.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

writing date

I had a long weekend at the end of February and a couple of friends and I went to a Starbucks, ordered coffees and wrote. A writing date. We brought writing books along, packed with new exercises to try, but we each ended up working on our own projects.

I had a new story to write. For the third time since beginning this Book Project, a short story idea came to me in a dream. This particular dream was so vivid that when I woke up, I laid in bed replaying each scene to glean what I could. Then I cried. The dream came to me in snapshots, as though I were paging through someone's photo album. Each snapshot came to life to tell a different part of the story.

That isn't how I'll structure my story, but the snapshots at least gave me parts to tell. I began writing and was able to spend two and a half hours getting a good start. I'm pleased with that.

Daily writing remains a challenge. I really haven't the time or creative energy to do much. Whine, whine, right? I have fourteen weeks remaining until the end of the semester, at which time I need to be revising the Book Project. I have only a few weeks until a spring break which will (I hope!) provide some much needed writing time to hammer out endings to one or two stories.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Teaching is demanding. Duh. So my writing life has been minimal. Other parts of my life are rather minimal as well, right now. Mostly the parts that I usually enjoy.

I am enjoying teaching, when I'm in the middle of a class. Usually.

But since this blog is about my Book Project and my writing in general, I need to be honest and say that I hate what teaching does to my time and my creative energy. I spent two hours today grading. Ick. After two hours of reading small cramped writing or sloppy loopy answers to quiz questions, I did not feel like picking up my own pen and scrawling my own ideas in a notebook. I settled on the couch and read a book that has nothing to do with anything I'm currently teaching. And then I took a nap. And then I graded another forty minutes or so.

I will make an effort not to whine about a decision that I made (going back to the classroom for a semester) because I'm sure that a. in the long run, this experience will be worthwhile (always keep eyes open for story ideas!), and b. whining isn't my most flattering tone.

Small steps: I need to make an effort to write each day. I fell off the thirty minutes a day but need to aim for that, at least. If nothing much is done for my stories, oh well. I have a long weekend coming up at the end of this month and a spring break in early April and my husband is the kind of understanding man who will take our daughter for a couple of long walks so I can work on my collection.

Since I'm usually zonked by four in the afternoon, my posts here will continue be sporadic. I will get there, I will get there, I will get there.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

what this might become

All the irons in the fire!

I begin teaching again this week. I am stepping in for a teacher who resigned mid-year and will teach second semester of a grade eleven American literature class. I enjoy American literature and I hope I enjoy my new students, but this means that I will have a lot less time to write and, as mentioned in a past post, my fiction creativity may be drained by the demand of planning and grading.

So while the teaching gig is a good opportunity for me here and now, it is not good for my writing goals. However, I shall press on and write my book by the end of July. Even if it means a few manic weeks before the clock strikes midnight.

And how is the Book Project going? Not brilliantly. I think I am going to step away from my stories and revisions for a week or two while I get settled in my new classroom. I need a break. I'm a little tired of short stories because I meet a character and let them go after twenty or so pages. When I decided to write a collection of shorts, I thought it'd be great practice drafting and revising over and over again. But my mind keeps returning to some longer projects I'd like to tackle. If I hadn't just signed on to teach second semester, I might consider switching my project to a longer work, but I don't think I can manage a new Book Project, teaching and mama-ing all at once.

Which means that part of me is already looking forward to August first when I can set a new writing goal.

I suppose that we all get bored with current projects. And that's all it is. A little bit of boredom. So I'll give the regular project a rest and write in new ways - perhaps returning to essays or poetry. Short bits I can fit in during passing periods, right?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

hi, my name is sarah

And I've been writing thirty minutes a day for ten days.

Hi, Sarah.

And enjoying it! Previously, I thought I needed an hour and a half or two hours to write uninterrupted, which is asking a lot of a mama wife teacher. For a couple of years, I wouldn't bother cracking my notebook if I couldn't guarantee at least an hour to get lost on paper. Then I returned to what I'd begun in college: carrying a notebook everywhere. Jotting a few ideas between classes (or joining my students in a writing exercise during class), a paragraph in the doctor's waiting room, or a list before bed. Sometimes I go grocery shopping and still take along my current writing journal even though it's highly unlikely I'll write anything between sweet potatoes and feta cheese.

So here is how I've been spending my thirty minutes a day
1. Journaling. Sometimes I need to just blah blah blah about who said what and how much I'm worried about this or happy about that. I don't journal every little thing, but when I have something nagging me, it's so good to put it on the page. Cathartic. You know that already.
2. Lists. I adore lists. Writing a list is fast enough to keep your editor's mouth shut so you can cull later.
3. One, two or three pages of progress on a short story, depending on how often I pause to think of a word or listen carefully to hear what my character is saying.

I plan to continue thirty minutes a day. When I've got the time to stretch thirty minutes to an hour or so, I'm happy. And if thirty minutes is it, that's okay too.

Short Story Collection Update
I am aiming for seven to ten finished short stories. It is okay if not all of them are amazing. I want at least five of my finished pieces to be publishable material.

Two themes are emerging in my work: first, relationships. Typically, relationships at a turning point or relationships barely held together. I didn't realize how much I write about fragile relationships - husband and wife, nephew and aunt, mother and daughter, two people connected through tragedy - and their communication. I am very fascinated by letter writing; I used to write a lot of letters myself. So letter writing or left behind journals show up in a couple of pieces. The second theme I'm noticing is searching for self. Figuring things out, finding your place, learning contentment. I don't think it always works out for my characters, but of course I'm only telling one part of their whole story.

Right now I am writing an emotionally involved piece about wanting a baby and a couple who will need to decide if they can be just two, happily, or if only three will satisfy. This is very difficult for me. I have read about infertility and listened to friends talk about their own experiences, but I do not personally know what it is to want a child with an ache in your empty belly. That is the phrase that has been with me for years: empty belly. I have thought about these women for at least five years and am only now trying to write it. (Very likely, I will write it and rewrite it for years but I cannot explain why).

I'm beginning to complete final revisions on two of my earlier pieces - Laine and Evan. Among other things, I need to actually title them instead of referring to the pieces by the character's name. Evan turned out not to be the main character anyway!

I am pleased with my progress. I think I'll make it. Thirty minutes at a time.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

thirty minutes a day

When I set out to write, I find a solid hour or two and I get my words on paper or typed into a file. Done. But the other days, when I think that there it too much to do (excuses, excuses), I pass on writing because I just don't have the time.

But thirty minutes? Surely I can manage that every single day. Challenge to myself: write at least thirty minutes a day for one month. I just started today, 14 January, and knocked off my thirty minutes. I'll do it again tomorrow and the next day and all the way to 14 February. If I can make it a month, perhaps I can just make it a lasting habit.

I am allowing any kind of writing to count. It isn't just thirty minutes of working on The Book Project. I can journal, write poetry, try an essay: anything. Just to write daily.

Try it and see. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, January 8, 2010

group training & work work work

Today I read an article in a back issue of Runner's World about the Hanson-Brooks distance running project. Two brothers, Keith and Kevin Hanson of Michigan, are training American distance runners to compete with East African runners in top marathons and the Olympics. Their idea is that group training is key and they aspire to provide their athletes with a schedule and living wage that allows running to be central, rather than squeezed in before or after a forty (or fifty or sixty) hour work week.

I run so part of me wondered if I'd be a phenomenal runner if I spent five or six hours a day dedicated to the sport. But I'm also a writer and my daydreams revolve more around seeing my book(s!) in print (and read!) than standing among elites on a podium. Still, I thought about the two main ideas to the Hansons' approach: an emphasis on group training and also the idea that if you work (work work work) you can become (much) better.

At the writing group I am part of, I think we each sharpen each other and bring fresh ideas to light. It's a lot of encouragement; I think that's what I need most at this time as I keep drafting stories for The Book Project. As for the work work work part of writing: I wish that I could spend five or six hours a day writing and I hope that that sort of day is in my future. For now, I am developing the discipline to manage one or two focused hours a day and trusting my mind to continue working on plots and characters in the between time.

Though my year is about to get much busier (more on that later), I think that I will have a reasonable (if not entirely publishable) short story collection by the end of July. Writing Group and work work work will get me there.