Beginning the End

It feels a little surreal to be back to writing and routine after the craziness of the past month. As I begin working on my fifth and final packet for this semester – and final packet in CNF for a while – it’s fun to look back at the work I’ve done since May. More than a dozen new essays in various stages of revision are now living happily in Google Drive folders on my laptop. I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo – which allowed me to use my school writing as my camp project – for the first time and met my self-appointed goal. I’ve “survived” my second Michigan summer, which involved spending a good deal of time on the beach, collecting glass and fossils and sand under my toenails. I’ve learned a lot about Michigan ecology – both land and lake – and reflected this in my writing. I’ve learned a LOT about home improvement – and not just by reading about it! And, bonus: I’ve learned a lot about coffee and the importance of the gathering place that a locally owned coffee shop like Infusco can provide.

It’s been a good semester. Here’s to finishing strong… assuming I can find more words to write!

Up next on the reading list:

A 1,000-Mile Walk on the Beach – Loreen Niewenhuis

A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson

You Have Given Me a Country – Neela Vaswani

Fernwood Gardens

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To Try… Or

change

All of the sudden, when you’re not looking, life decides to bombard you with everything your back was turned on.

Last I checked, July was just beginning. It was summer(ish) here in Michigan, and I had just finished my first packet for my MFA.

Now, August is upon us. (You may think not, but it has turned up on the date stamp we put on books checked out at the library, so you’re wrong.) My second packet is due, and a million things need to happen before the next one gets turned in. My family is coming to visit from Maryland, we’ll be closing on our house – which involves painting, tearing out carpet, and moving – and I’ve got to read and evaluate submissions for the Louisville Review. I also recently remembered that the deadline for that evaluation is also the deadline for my writing sample if I want to explore another area of writing next semester.

I considered blowing this off and just continuing in the study of creative nonfiction. I really love this genre, and I’m learning so much about it. But this is my opportunity to get some feedback on an area of writing that I have never had a professional opinion on, and that is a chance I don’t want to pass up.

So here’s to the next few weeks. Let them be crazy.

 

Writing is Hard

Snoopy

Writing is really, really hard. I think this is how you can tell if someone is a writer. If someone tells you that writing is easy, they are probably not a writer. It’s easy to make letters appear on a page. But it’s hard to refine them. And it’s really hard to erase them altogether. But every writer, at some point, has done this. Even though it was hard.

I was once a revision hater, too. I didn’t necessarily think everything I wrote was perfect, but I liked most of it too much to think of editing as anything more than revision – spelling, grammar, syntax. I might have gone back and added quite a bit to my longer stories, but I never went back and changed what was already written. In college I was blessed with the ability to get As without trying too hard. I almost never even proofread my papers, much less revised them. Turns out, this was just as much a curse.

Revision is critical to the writing process. I have always believed this on some level, but not practiced it enough to benefit in any way. The hard part for me is the visualization: here is this rough, lumpy thing that I poured hours and heartbeats into, and now I need to rewrite it, spending more and more hours, and at the end most of those words will be sacrificed so that the pulse becomes stronger.

But how do you make that happen? My strategy so far is to put in the hours. Start at the beginning and literally write it again. Don’t “revise.” Rewrite. At least, that’s the only way I seem to be able to make noticeable, beneficial changes.

Do you have a different strategy I should try?  Or any advice in general on the subject of that process Рthe writing Рthat comes after the first draft?

Procrastination Problems

Pro

College taught me, as it teaches every student, to be a skilled procrastinator. Test? Read over your notes and quizzes during the empty class period before. Project? Late night Wal-Mart run and acrylic paint brushes in the RA office during the preceding shift. Eight page paper? Start at 11 PM and write til dawn. Sleep for a few hours, roll up and head to class to turn it in.

As I began working on projects that I come up with and enforce myself for my master’s, I somehow tricked myself into thinking that those days were behind me. Frenzy? Overrated! Panic? Left behind! Everything looked up from the beginning, when I started my first packet before even getting home from residency and worked on my writing predictably enough throughout the weeks. I had both books read (required reading, but I picked them out!) and my packet finished nearly a week before my deadline. All that was left were a few short, critical essays. We call these SCEs in the Spalding world, and they are tiny foes, only 2-4 pages each, on the subject of your choosing, based out of the books that you chose to read.

Yet here I am, days later, and still no SCEs on my hard drive. Did I deceive myself by believing they would be easy? Do I really have to go back to the days yore and stay up writing them the day before I must put them in the mail to my mentor?

No. I will write them today!

But first I’ll procrastinate by writing this blog.

P.S. – Has anyone tried out Camp NaNoWriMo? You can set your own word count goal, and you can write whatever you want, including nonfiction. The next session starts July 1st… anyone want to share a cabin with me? There are 50% off coupons for Scrivener¬†waiting on the other side!

When You Have No Office

Five months after our move to the breezy north, Caleb and I have yet to move above ground out of our chilly burrow. Because we are still in this apartment I’ve still been having trouble working on writing from home. Hopefully once we do move I’ll be able to set up a nice writer’s room and things will get easier.

In the meantime, however, my desk is not an ideal place to work due to the lack of natural lighting, and I can’t sit elsewhere in the apt. because then I can see all of the dishes, the laundry, the housework I should be doing. (If you’re looking for guilt-free procrastination techniques, this is for you.) So lucky for me, the beginning of my first semester at Spalding coincided with the opening of a great local coffee shop not five minutes from my house.

The shop happens to be owned by some friends of ours, and they arranged for me to write blog posts for them in order to get the word out without adding to their already busy schedules. In return, what do I get? A tasteful, caffeine-rich new office full of natural light!

It’s a pretty great deal – and I get a lot more work done!

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If you’d like to check out the blog, click here.

 

Re-immersion

Reading List

Getting back into the swing of things after any kind of trip or absence is always hard. Getting back into the balancing act of life, while adding another brick – writing 35-50 pages every 3.5 weeks – is especially difficult. When the trip you’ve returned from was entirely focused on writing, inspiration, and empowerment, it is super depressing to realize that the farther you get into your five-hour drive home, the more things you wanted to bring back with you are left behind. And when you go at once into a gathering of people with nothing in common to where you just were… you get the picture. By the time Wednesday rolls around, empowerment has said goodbye, inspiration is riding into the sunset, and the writing muse has her arms crossed and a frown on her face, like, “Well? Weren’t you supposed to be progressing by leaps and bounds? Shouldn’t you have twenty good pages written by now instead of just the seven crappy ones you wrote before you even got home?”

Yes, Muse. You’re right. But are you surprised?

In the meantime, even just this little bit of writing about writing is enough to get some juices flowing. The bigger problem is that as soon as they begin to rush it’s time to put the pen/laptop/phone down and go to work. Luckily, I work in a library… so researching these 35-50 pages of nonfiction is pretty easy.

If you’re reading this and you’re a writer, what’s the easy part for you? What’s the hard part and how do you handle it?

When Writers Gather

My first MFA Residency experience has been one of absolute joy and a profound sense of belonging which I don’t know that I’ve experienced more than a few times in my life. I am living and working and eating among 125+ others who are seeking the same thing I seek. Doing the same thing I do. Striving for the same thing for which I strive. Whatever the genre, the age, education, number of publications, we are all artists, working to improve, to perhaps some day perfect, our art.

Although it is only halfway through, I can already say with certainty that this has been the most rewarding experience of my creative life. Workshop every day. Lectures on craft and on elements of writing that inspire me to go out and live the way a writer should! Readings by faculty members who are brilliant. Purchasing faculty books and not knowing which one to read first. If a heaven for writers exists, this week must a peek around the corner, a tiny window, a door knocker.

Needless to say, the creativity is so pervasive one can feel it in the air, a physical energy, a presence that follows down sidewalks, into buildings, up stairs. If writers could feel this energy all the time, surly they would get a lot more work done. There is a love here, for words and for what we can convey and create and imagine while using them. There is a camaraderie and a respect in everyone for everyone else, everyone knowing that we have come here, together, from the corners of a vast country to seek out and strive for the very same things.

I walk a few blocks in the morning, two fiction writers behind me discussing the difficulty they have presenting round antagonists, the opposite of their beloved protagonist heroes.

I pass a group lunching beneath an umbrellaed cafe table, one reading poetry aloud to the other, who listens with interest and respect.

I seek a place to sit, be still, and ponder.

I feel incredibly blessed to be here, and relish that while much has happened, much is still to come.

A taste, for you, of what has transpired here, is this Sonata No.3, “Moon,” composed by Jeremy Beck – an excerpt of which I saw performed live on Sunday. Enjoy! And may you be inspired.