The Practice of Creativity

Naming and Claiming Your Writing Accomplishments: Do You Have a List?

Posted on: April 14, 2013

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?

hand-writing1

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.

5x7grandmothers

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6 Responses to "Naming and Claiming Your Writing Accomplishments: Do You Have a List?"

Wow, April’s been a great month for you. Congrats!

Thanks, Kelly! Sometimes when it rains, it really does pour! Here’s to April showers.

That’s a great idea, to list our writing accomplishments, even if it doesn’t include, or includes few, published pieces. Sometimes we do not realize how much we’ve accomplished, and a list shows us we’ve done more than we realize.

Hi Deborah,
Thanks for stopping by. Yes, it is the accumulation of evidence that helps keep us going and motivated.

Michele, I too buckled a bit under Marjorie’s assignment to identify my writing accomplishments. I had to think about it for a few days. The first few items were recent, so they came quickly. The others? I had to go back to my writing files from college. So here’s a list that I have to date:
*Took Ruth Moose’s short story class at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro and proved I could crank out one short a week. BTW the class was excellent. Ruth is a great cheerleader and excellent at critique.
*Published my novella “Shifting Sands: His Hell. Her Prison.” This was a 2 year project that introduced me to editing, re-editing, and more editing.
*In college at Indiana University I took 5 or 6 (I can’t remember) creative writing classes. My story “My Granddaddy was a House” won the outstanding freshman essay award, which inspire me to write and write.
*Also in college I submitted my favorite work somewhere around 15 times to loads of literary magazines: “New Yorker,” “The Atlantic,” “The Ball State Forum,” “The Southern Review,” and more.
But, my biggest successes have nothing to do with awards or submitting. My biggest successes come from the hugs and tears I get from some who have been touched in a very personal way by “Shifting Sands.” The book is largely the story of a bi-polar father and husband’s struggles with his disorder and his battle to free his family from the shackles of mental illness. It’s those struggling readers who, amongst despair, find enlightenment and ultimately hope on the pages of “Shifting Sands: His Hell. Her Prison.”

Great, Todd! Love these–several I didn’t know!

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Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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