The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘Marjorie Hudson

Around this time last year, I was published in the beautiful book A Letter to My Mom! It is a tribute to the women who shape us into the people we become.

My love letter to my courageous mother is next to letters from Suze Orman, Dr. Phil McGraw, Melissa Rivers, Lisa Ling, Dr. Jennifer Arnold and many other amazing sons and daughters. In this third installment of the A Letter to My series…(following A Letter to My Dog and A Letter to My Cat), over sixty contributors share letters that chronicle the love, gratitude, silliness, fun and even conflict that define mother and child relationships. I am so honored to be part of this collection.

alettertomymom

My writing teacher, Marjorie Hudson (author of Accidental Birds of the Carolinas) encourages students to ‘find their territory’, to explore the kinds of unique themes and challenges that only they can write about.

The relationship with my mother is definitely my territory. In 2013, I started exploring a snippet of my mother’s life which involved a great act of courage that changed the course of our lives. Since that time, I have continued thinking about the intersection of my life and hers. I am constantly surveying that rich and fertile ground. My mother is no longer living, so writing about her is one way that I can keep her memory alive.

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When I saw the call for ‘A Letter to My Mom’, I decided to submit my very personal story. The editor and creator of the A Letter to My series, Lisa Erspamer and her team were amazing. They treated my narrative (and I assume all the others), with great care, respect and unabashed enthusiasm.

A Letter to My Mom is so inspiring and the layout of the book is beautiful. Each entry is accompanied by photos. If you’re looking for a great gift for Mother’s Day, this is it. You and your mom will laugh and cry while reading it.

Find out more about the book here.

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During my Feb writing group meeting last Sunday, we discussed what went well in 2015 and what goals we had for 2016. We would have gotten to this in Jan, but due to bad weather and personal life disruptions, we pushed back this discussion.

March is a perfect time to both reflect and plan as it marks our approach to the end of the first quarter of the year. Unbelievable, I know!

In preparation for the meeting, I spent some time reviewing my goals and submission record of 2015 and thinking about 2016. Since I didn’t post at the end of last year about this topic, I thought I’d share with you some highlights and lessons learned.

Submissions:

In 2014, I submitted to 19 places. I vowed that in 2015, I would push myself to do better.

And, I did—I submitted to 34 individual journals, contests, anthologies or magazines. For many of these submissions, I submitted both poetry and prose.

What did that yield?

-1 publication (a poem, coming out this spring)

-4 very nice personalized rejection emails, encouraging me to submit something else soon. I’m keeping track of those outlets.

-3 places I’m waiting to hear back from

Although I almost doubled my submission record from 2014, it still only breaks down to about 1.5 submissions per month. This isn’t quite accurate, either, as I tend to send batches and batches of submissions at a time, so some months I sent more out and other months less.

As you know, researching places to submit, making sure you’ve read those publications before submitting, making time to submit, and tracking your submissions is a lot of work. In 2016, I’ve been devoting at least two days a month for submitting work. I also am trying to keep an organized list of upcoming deadlines. I love using Evernote for this task. I also have a full time career that requires its own care and attention.

One resource that helped me phenomenally last year was finding out about the group, Women Who Submit. Their website and Twitter feed is chock-full of great information about where to submit. Plus, they hold in person and online submission blitzes. I love the group energy that happens when a lot of people are submitting their work, talking about it on social media and encouraging each other.

Given that I have a full time career besides writing that requires its own care and attention, I need to be realistic in how much more I can up my submissions. I’m shooting for about 50-60 submissions this year. And, I want to be more selective in the places that I submit.

What Got Written in 2015:

-Finished several poems, my best work so far

-Finished some flash fiction pieces

-Started several stories

-Continued to revise my NaNoWriMo project

-Wrote weekly blog posts

-Asked several beta readers to provide feedback on my speculative fiction short story collection

I had one publication appear last year (it was accepted in 2014), my essay in A Letter to My Mom.  Although I didn’t have a lot of publications, my year felt like an extremely fulfilling and productive one across other areas:

Building Writing Community:

-In 2015, on the advice of a published writer, I went to several local sci-fi conventions. That led to meeting local authors, getting connected to the local and state wide scene, finding people to interview for my blog and getting invited to present at sci-fi cons this year. I’ve been really enjoying deepening my writing community.

-My writing teacher also invited me to participate with her at a wonderful event called ‘Love and the Lonely Writer’. I wrote about it here. It was an honor to share the stage with my mentor and teacher and read to a packed room.

There's nothing like seeing a poster, in a bookstore, with your name on it!

There’s nothing like seeing a poster, in a bookstore, with your name on it!

-I participated in several open mic nights.

-I attended the A Room of Her Own (AROHO) Foundation’s week long women’s retreat in Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. It was truly a transformative experience. I left with a whole new community of women writers and friends. I hope to continue featuring some of their wisdom here. If you missed Li Yun Alvarado’s amazing post about the importance of a low stakes daily writing practice and how it can transform your year, check it out here.

Education:

A writer never stops learning about craft and storytelling. Last year, I redoubled my efforts to know more about the craft and the business of writing. I constantly listened to writing podcasts and combed through Poets & Writers.

I also took my first poetry workshop, a flash fiction workshop; and a week-long young adult literature and diversity class during AROHO.

First Quarter of 2016:

Submissions: I’ve submitted to 6 places, including a contest. I’ve heard back from 2 so far (rejections).

Writing: If you’ve been reading this blog since January, you know I committed to writing an original affirmation, about the creative process, once a day, every day for the entire year. For why I am doing it, see my inspiration here. I am loving this practice. But, a daily practice is demanding! And, some days, I feel more prepared to create than others. But, the feedback, about the affirmation project, has been great. It’s stocking my creative well.

2016 Writing goals:

-Continue to revise my NaNoWriMo project

-Place my speculative fiction short story collection with a press

-Continue to write a daily original affirmation

-Work on my secret ‘genius’ project

-Strive for 50-60 submissions

 

How are your writing goals going in the first quarter? Where areas (using the ones above) are you feeling ease in and what areas do you want to tweak?

Affirmations-366Days#57: I pay close attention to what readers tell me they love about my work. I follow these clues.
For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations, about the creative process, during the next 366 days.

People who love our work give us clues about what to write more of. Today I was in the gym and saw a writing acquaintance who I hadn’t seen in several months. Many years ago, we had been in the same prompt writing group started by one of my writing teachers, Marjorie Hudson. I loved her writing. In her writing, she mostly drew on her multifaceted experiences being a neonatal nurse for over thirty years. She didn’t consider herself a writer and despite our urging, in the end, decided to write mostly for her family.

She asked me what I was working on and I told her I was polishing a collection of short fiction and sending out more of my poetry. She said, “And you are writing a memoir, too, right?” I really haven’t written any creative non-fiction in some time. Then she said, “Have you done anything with that piece, ‘She Saved Me Once and I Tried to Save Her Twice’?” I was shocked that she remembered the name of this short piece, written now over five years ago, that I brought to class and read. It was the beginning of the story of how my mother saved my life and how I tried to save her life twice. A look of surprise crossed my face and I said something like, “I can’t believe you remember that.” And she looked me straight in the eye and said, “Of course I do; it was earth-shattering, honest, and unforgettable.” She held my gaze for a few moments. Wow! I told her that I had explored snippets of my mother and daughter journey in a brief essay I wrote for the book A Letter to My Mom that was published last year. I periodically think about writing that memoir, but it often goes on the back burner.

Different projects need different rhythms and complex levels of investment from us. So, I probably am not going to drop all my other projects to take up this one right now. But, on the other hand, I found her feedback to be so valuable and affirming. I also miss writing creative nonfiction now that I am not writing a monthly column anymore. And, people loved my columns. Sometimes I think we as writers are not always the best judges of what we should work on. It’s good to get direct feedback from people who enjoy our work. That can lead us in new directions, or back to cherished but languishing projects.

 

Have you received feedback from an enthusiastic reader that made you reconsider a past project or even writing into another genre?

Last week, I wrote about the lovely time I had at the ‘Love and Lonely Writer’ Valentine’s Day reading being featured with Marjorie Hudson.

One of the questions I asked Marjorie was ‘what would you do differently now if you were just starting a writing career?’ She said among other things, she’d be less shy about announcing herself as a writer. And, she’d also let go of the inner fear of ‘not being good enough’ a lot quicker.

She then asked me the same question. I didn’t expect this for some reason and so I answered it quickly. I said that I would have joined a writing group and sought community a lot sooner.

Although what I offered was true, I felt I left something else important unsaid. And, this unsaid thing has nagged at me for the past week.

Here is what I wished I would have said:

I wish I would have realized earlier that there is no one path to being a writer or embodying a writing life. Some people take years rowing across acidic lakes of self-doubt before getting the courage to write a single word. Some people come to writing because they have a great idea and want to express it and know little about craft or technique. Others have always dreamed of being writers and feel it deep in their bones. Some writers come to writing after retirement. Some want to make lots of money with their writing and others just want to be published in The New Yorker. Some writers are introverted and others will drink with you all night. Some writers have felt marginalized for most of their lives and others have felt entitled. Some writers write every day and others in uneven cycles and spurts. Some people study literature in college and others study Jackie Collins at the laundromat. Some writers are anxious no matter what their output and others settle into a Zen like calmness. Some writers quit again and again and others commit from day one. Some writers get their inspiration from role playing games and others from nature. Some writers define their creativity in spiritual terms and others don’t. I had all kinds of notions in my head about what it meant to be a writer and to actualize a writing life. Some were helpful, but most were junk and prevented me from enjoying the journey. Writers (and creative folk generally) come to this life from a dizzying number of perspectives and life experiences.

manypaths

Let’s honor our individual paths and the wisdom they reveal and reflect back to us.

Have you had to discard any unhelpful ideas about what a writer’s life should be like? I’d love to hear.

 

Last night I had the distinct honor of being featured as an ‘emerging writer’, at Quail Ridge Books, alongside my writing teacher, Marjorie Hudson. The event was called ‘Love and the Lonely Writer’ and it was organized by the Raleigh Review Literary and Arts Magazine. They periodically host the ‘Southern Recitations’ series where they invite an established writer to give a weekend workshop and then host a reading with that writer and an invited ‘emerging’ writer.

There's nothing like seeing a poster, in a bookstore, with your name on it!

There’s nothing like seeing a poster, in a bookstore, with your name on it!

As this was an nontraditional way to spend Valentine’s Day, I wasn’t sure if we would have much of an audience. I just thought of the event as a way to spend time with Marjorie and talk about writing in public (two of my favorite things), and honor anyone that showed up. And, I used it as an opportunity to hone my performance skills (see here for tips about public readings). Although I tried to play down the event in my mind, it was a BIG DEAL. Quail Ridge Books is one of most well-established and respected bookstores in the region. I told friends about it, posted on Facebook and reached out to local writers. And, I said, hey I know this event falls on V-Day, but it would be great if you could stop by. There’s nothing like asking for support when you really need it!

I’m happy to say the turnout was great. We had a packed house. People were so kind and lovely.

Current and former students of mine!

Current and former students of mine!

Marjorie spent some time talking about the importance of developing a writing community. For most of her life, she didn’t have a writing community and she often felt isolated.

I talked about how Marjorie is an exemplar teacher not just because she can teach craft or introduces her students to other writers. She’s an amazing teacher because she helps empower writers to create a vibrant and nurturing community.

I always say that before I met Marjorie, I wrote mostly by myself. I’d take a workshop here and there, read tons of writing books and sporadically joined writing groups. I would occasionally send things out for review. I taught myself many things during that long spell, but my output was slow and more importantly, I was often miserable.

In the five years since meeting Marjorie not only have I become a stronger writer and more widely published, but I actually have so much more joy and enthusiasm for writing. Cultivating a writing community (everything from writing buddies, online writing community, being in a writing group, etc.), has a been a great source of pleasure and support.

Yeah, it was a Marjorie and Michele lovefest!

mm2

 

We both read works. I read ‘Ode to Shari Belafonte in her Calvin Klein Jeans’ recently published in Glint.

Marjorie often uses the method of timed writing to specific prompts. This technique gets to fresh writing that’s kind of ‘shaggy’, but often powerful and can take you to unexpected places. She asked me to read an unrevised poem that came from one of those prompts. I read that and she read a short piece from her novel-in-progress.

I read a love letter to my mother based on one of the columns I wrote for The Chapel Hill News last year. She read some steamy scenes from ‘The Clearing’, a story in her collection Accidental Birds of the Carolinas.

We did Q&A and ended the evening by handing out chocolates and a writing prompt. It’s a fun prompt that you might want to try. Marjorie will post some of the entries on her blog!

 

A writer’s prompt for Valentine’s Day:

Write a letter to someone whose writing you love, or who has encouraged you or helped you with your writing.

If possible, find the person’s address and mail it, snail style.  I will post some of these on my blog—so send me a copy if you’d like to

ktwriters15501@gmail.com

Subject: Valentine

 

 

All in all, one of my best V-Days ever!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a writer, you can never predict what will touch people. You can only do your best to tell your story with skill, precision and heart. My writing teacher, Marjorie Hudson (author of Accidental Birds in the Carolinas) encourages students to ‘find their territory’, to explore the kinds of unique themes and challenges that only they can write about.

The relationship with my mother is definitely my territory. In last December’s ‘My View’ column for The Chapel Hill News, I wrote about a snippet of my mother’s life which involved a great act of courage that changed the course of our lives (‘My Mother’s Gift’). When I was eight, my mother left my abusive stepfather and started her life over. Due to her actions, some serendipity and innovative social service programming we (my mother, sister and I) came to live in a special program for battered women and their children at The President Hotel, in Manhattan.  The program was a partnership with the city of New York and the President Hotel.

I received the highest number of responses from this column, more than any other I have written. I also had lengthy conversations with friends who read the column. I’ve been reflecting on what people shared with me and the questions that linger.

I was touched by many comments from women who had mothers that stayed with abusive partners, who were unable or unwilling to leave. A representative remark was “I’ve always wished that my mother had the courage to do what yours did.” These daughters have spent a lifetime trying to understand and cope with the consequences of growing up in a violent household. Some later became active in women’s issues:  “I grew up in a battering household, found feminism in my 40s and served on several boards advocating and helping women.”

I also heard from several readers whose mothers did leave. One said, “My mother did the same for me and my brother. Hooray for women who break the cycle of violence and give their children hope.” Therapists and health providers wrote to say that they work with many abused women and it is still very challenging for many women to leave. They hoped some would see my story and make a change. Others also thought my story might help other women. A friend said on my Facebook page “Stories such as these need to be told so [that] others’ can ‘keep on keeping on,’ when they feel all hope is lost…”

Our individual stories are always connected specific and historical eras. Having conversations with peers reminded me that I am part of the first generation of women (and men) whose mothers could  make a choice to leave an abusive relationship and potentially find societal support (and possibly resources), instead of condemnation.  Second wave feminist activism of the early 1970s placed the issue of ‘battering’ front and center in the national spotlight. Advocates were able to recast battering from a private, personal problem to a public one that needed addressing.  Previously, women, as a social group, did not have the public support to leave abusive men. Many women like my mother were making history in small, individual ways and empowering their daughters to question the status quo.

And, finally there were practical things that people wanted to know, too. I talked about taking my cherished Bionic Woman doll with me when leaving my stepfather—some wanted to know if I still have the doll. I do! She sits in a special place in my home office.  She lost a foot at some point while I lived at the hotel.  She’s a survivor, just like my sister and I.

I received lots of questions about The President Hotel. How did I get along at the hotel? What were the other mothers and children like? These questions have stimulated more for me including:  How many private-public programs like the President Hotel existed in Manhattan and other cities? How did they get dreamed up and funded? What happened to the other mothers and children that I met? What did they make of their lives? Clearly, I’ve got lots more research to do!

Writing about my time at The President Hotel and what happened to my mother later is part of my territory.  My mother saved my and my sister’s physical and emotional lives by removing us from that home. Many many years later, I would save my mother’s life and give her a fresh beginning, but that is for another story.

(this piece is adapted from a February ‘My View’ column that was published in the Chapel Hill News)

Last spring, I had the pleasure of co-facilitating a weekend writing and yoga workshop with my writing teacher Marjorie Hudson. In that workshop we invited participants to explore the ways that the practice of writing and the practice of yoga need similar things from us: patience, devotion, activity, silence and reflection.  We did lots of prompt writing and interspersed that with gentle movement, demonstrating how yoga can help release the body’s wisdom to nurture the creative process.

The workshop was a great success and since then we both have become interested in exploring the chakra system (a yogic energy system) and its connection to writing. Next weekend we’re teaming up for a one day workshop where we explore ‘Writing from the Heart Chakra’ hosted by the Raleigh Review, a literary journal.

Chakras

Every writer needs to find a pathway to the heart’s best work. We often talk about ‘writing our heart out’ or ‘putting our heart’ into the work. This week leading up to the workshop, I’ll blog about why we want to pay attention to the heart chakra, physically and energetically, as we create.


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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