Posts Tagged ‘the writing life’
I remember anxiety creeping over me in Marjorie Hudson’s ‘Strategies for the Writing Life’ workshop when she cheerfully asked the group to name and claim our writing ‘accomplishments’ so far. People immediately raised their hands and asked questions like: Do you mean publication credits? How far back can we start our list? Does a personalized rejection letter count? What if I can’t think of anything?
She calmly explained that we could count anything and everything that has happened in our writing lives that we believe strengthened or encouraged us. This could include the time our teacher in the third grade chose to read our essay in front of the class to submitting an op-ed to getting a poem published in a literary journal. Our list could include helpful feedback we received from an editor or agent (even if they passed on the book), or reassuring words from a published writer. Most of us undertook the task with a kind of grim determination. And, I felt that I was bound to have a short and uninteresting list.
After about ten minutes, she asked us to read from our lists. The mood in the room softened as people shared. As it turns out until we were asked to reflect on the shape of our writing lives, most of us had either forgotten or discounted many of the positive things that had shown up. Several people did mention publication as an aspect of their accomplishments, but much of it included specific moments of encouragement expressed by peers, teachers and other published writers. Often words of encouragement allowed us to keep going in the face of high self-doubt and flat out fear. We also celebrated the fact that many of us had completed various types of writing projects and with some additional strategic effort, some might eventually find their way into publication. My list included the over 50 journals I have amassed, over my life, that are stuffed with ideas, dream fragments, stories, and chapters of novels. Hearing the lists of the other writers uplifted and inspired me.
Since that workshop in the spring of 2011, I have often gone back to the list in my notebook as well as the longer ‘accomplishments’ list that I keep on my computer. Some of the writers in that workshop posted their list in their writing space for daily inspiration.
It is easy to forget or minimize the ways in which the writing life is sustained. A list is evidence of one’s deep intentions that we can turn toward during moments of skepticism about our progress.
It is atypical that a writer gets anything published during a normal week and highly unlikely that more than one thing gets published. The first two weeks of April have been exceptionally good to me, so I’ve got new things to add to my list.
I received news that I am the 3rd place prize winner in the Carolina Woman Magazine Writing Contest, for my speculative fiction short story ‘Urban Wendy’. They will publish the piece in an upcoming issue.
For fun, I’ve included a few lines from the beginning of the story:
Marisol pulls another strand of red hair from a perfectly glazed Dunkin Donut, holds it up and looks at the stray bits of delicate pink icing clinging to the hair. Marisol reminds herself that her other team members working this shift don’t have red hair, nor does anyone else working here. Just like the icing clinging to the hair, Marisol knows that Wendy is trying to cling to her.
When Marisol announced she was leaving Wendy’s to work at Dunkin Donuts, two weeks ago, her co-workers warned her.
“Expect a visit from Wendy,” they said. Marisol looked at the goofy-looking freckled girl on the napkins she had passed out so many times to snot-nosed kids, harried mothers and dope addicts.
“She doesn’t like it when we leave without warning,” one of them whispered.
“You gotta to be kidding me. I’ll tell her a thing or two,” Marisol said. She filed their concerns of Wendy the phantom stalker, under ‘another urban legend’ and said good bye to the drab brown uniform, the never ending work of keeping the salad bar clean and organized, and sought her fortune among coffee and donuts.
* * *
A prose piece, ‘The Poison Our Grandmothers and Mothers Drank’ that I wrote in 2010 found a perfect home at Trivia: Voices of Feminism, an online magazine. This piece was created for the wonderful ‘Vision and Voice’ event at the Joyful Jewel gallery (in Pittsboro, North Carolina), where writers are invited to write about art. Then the writer gets to read the piece and the artist attends, too, and remarks about the inspiration behind the art.
Sharon Blessum’s photograph (below) triggered a memory about a powerful dream regarding my grandmother and other female elders that I wrestled with for many years. In the piece, I tackle the metaphorical ‘poison’, given societal constraints, that many of our female ancestors swallowed, and how I integrate this knowledge into my work as a professor and coach.
Spring presents writers with a perfect time to reassess, reorganize and rededicate ourselves to the projects that we most want to bring into the world. Spring fuels us with the energy to tackle physical spaces (and states of mind) that no longer serve us. Over the next several posts, I’ll explore the role of spring cleaning for your writing life. I also asked writer friends for their thoughts and will share their nuggets of wisdom. I posed this question to them: What is one thing that you’re doing, giving away, rearranging, reassessing, reorganizing, etc., to support your writing life?
The ONLY thing unique I have been doing for spring is rearranging my writing nook. (It’s a small indentation that has a desk with shelves all the way up the wall above it across from my bed in my bedroom. I have to write on my laptop sitting on my bed due to my disability.) I have been saving my son’s schoolwork there as well, but have found that it sits there making me feel guilty that I am not putting it into albums, scrapbooks etc., while I am trying to write. So I am moving all his stuff to a place all by itself AWAY from the nook, so I can take ONE day this summer to go through it and file everything where it belongs. It’s been so distracting to have something OTHER than my writing materials in my writing nook. It’s amazing how all that other stuff hanging out in one’s writing area (reminding you of all the other projects waiting for you), can make you feel bad about writing!
So spring is about making my writing space EXCLUSIVELY about writing and not a multitasking space. It’s already made me feel more focused that I have given my writing its own place, making it a real priority.
Jennie Kohl Austin, a writer who also describes herself as a “fiercely determined mom, artist, researcher, lover, and motorcycle enthusiast” shared:
I chose to rework my writing work space as a part of my spring routine this year. I separated my writing work space from my regular computer area so that I could define the state of “being a writer.” Laptop, markers and notepads, nice lighting, and my most inspiring books make for a soothing space that not only honors my process, but also lets my family know I’m working. The best part is how it doesn’t gather unrelated clutter, so I’m always ready to work!
Samantha and Jennie’s insights remind us how important it is to periodically reassess our writing space. Go and look at your writing space. What’s the state of it? Do you feel as sense of ease when you look at it? Is it crammed with stuff that belongs in other rooms of your house? If you live with other people, is this space known as your special writing area?
Have you even claimed some special place yet, or are you waiting for permission from someone else? If you’re struggling with this, see my post on claiming creative space.
It’s important to not get overwhelmed during spring cleaning. Many people decide they will devote a day to a spring cleaning project and then realize that they’re cranky after two hours and that the task requires at least two days. Start small and reward yourself often. Why not take from now until the official start of summer to spring clean? You could choose one project each week. I suggest working in 15-30 minute intervals so there’s less chance of getting frustrated and overwhelmed. I enjoy using an online stopwatch.
Survey your space and make a quick list of what you feel needs your attention most. The questions below are not exhaustive, but a good place to start.
-Do you need to organize and sort out your paper files?
-Would it be useful to create an index for your piles of journals?
-When was the last time you did a backup of your computer files? Do you need to delete or add programs?
-Do you need to release some writing books? Welcome others?
-Do you need to physically clean your computer?
-Do you have too much or too little of something in your space?
-Do you need more or less shelf space?
-Are there big physical jobs you’d like to do (i.e. paint)?
Once you have your list you can break each item down into specific tasks.
I’d love to hear from you about your process of spring cleaning and your writing life. Any please feel free to share any tips!
I loved being interviewed last week by Molly Matlock, host of Inside The Artist’s Studio from WCOM 103.5 LP FM Radio. She asked provocative questions about the nature of creativity and the role of the arts in society. We talked about some of my favorite topics: my creative tickle approach, neuroscience and creativity, the writing life and the value of a liberal arts degree! Check out the podcast here