Write Every Day?

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Write. Write more. Write even more. Write even more than that. Write when you don’t want to. Write when you do. Write when you have something to say. Write when you don’t. Write every day. Keep writing. ― Brian Clark

You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world. ― Ray Bradbury

I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at 9 am every morning. – Peter DeVries

These quotes, and more like them, can be found all over the internet, in writing craft books, and in those images with words on them that get put up in classrooms everywhere. They are repeated because they are quotes from writers who are published, renowned, and – perhaps most importantly – successful. Somehow, I think we writers believe that if we can just follow the advise of those who have gone before, who have “made it,” we’ll be able to make it, too.

The concept of writing every day, sticking your but in your chair and typing away until you have something, is common in quotes like these. That’s why they make me nervous. There was a time in my life when I did, in fact, write every single day. No matter what. Sometimes it was a paper for school, sometimes a blog post, sometimes a newspaper article, sometimes just a few pages in a journal. After a few weeks of doing this, I did find that when I decided my writing for a given day would be directed toward an essay or a story that my fingers moved a little faster and the words flowed more readily than before. It was great place to be, having a semi-regular schedule that offered the opportunity of following all of the advice of the writing gods and writing every day.

But those times never last for ever. Since I’ve been working through my MFA, I find that the few short weeks where the workload is lighter during semester transitions are cherished times – times where I do home renovation, catch up on housework, do a ton of yard work, go to parties, watch TV in the evening, catch up with friends, and generally do not write. At all.

During the heavier parts of the semesters, I find myself thinking of these in-between-weeks wistfully. But during the in-between-weeks, I find myself afraid, because I absolutely do not write every day. I find myself wondering, is this what my life will be like when I’m done with my program? Will I make myself so busy with home and friends that my writing desk is just sitting there to hold up the wall? Will writing simply be there, in the back of my mind, as something I will do when I have time?

All of which makes me wonder – is writing every day really necessary? Are quotes like “Don’t be a writer, be writing” both inspirational and unnecessarily harsh? If I only write a few times a week, or even once a week, does that mean I am not a writer?

I don’t think so. But while I am enjoying this time of home improvement, relaxation, and “spare time,” I am looking forward to beginning the next term, where I will once again be writing every day.

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NaNoWriMo: The Power of Titles

Participant-2014-Web-Banner (1)As I’ve been away at residency in Louisville it’s become glaringly obvious to me that my NaNoWriMo project is stuck. When I arrived, I had 24,000 words (no, I haven’t added to that in a week) and no idea where my story was going, what it was about, or what I needed to write next.

This is not to imply that I’ve been uninspired. While here, I’ve drafted two picture books and a flash creative essay. Thanks to workshop, I’ve been more than successful in figuring out what last year’s project needs in it’s next revision, but I’ve made little progress as far as my current project is concerned.

Which leads me to a conversation about titles. Great titles are amazing. They’re like a muse that is always there to remind you what your story is about, and never fail to lead you back to the heart of the book when you’re floundering. Without a title for this project, I feel like I’m wandering around in the wilderness with no idea where I’m trying to go. So my new goal is: come up with a title. Even a placeholder, a throwaway, a horrible title that would never market.

Naming the thing makes me more powerful than the thing itself.

So that’s what I’ll try to do. Then I’ll try to write 25k+ in the next ten days. That can be done right?

Shh. I don’t want to know your answer.

 

NaNoWriMo: A Room of My Own

My whole life I’ve imagined what it would be like to have an entire room in a house that was dedicated to books, both their creation and consumption. In honor of NaNo, here’s what that looks like!

When we bought our three-bedroom cape cod in August, I knew exactly which room I wanted for this purpose. It’s on the main floor, not too far from the kitchen (caffeine access), gets great light in the morning, has a tiny closet for crafting and art supplies, and has a perfect view of our back yard. We painted the room a lovely, inspirational shade of green, put up some pretty curtains, and filled that sucker with books. Every writer is familiar with Virginia Woolf’s recommendation that each writer needs a “room of her own” to think, read, and write in. This is my room, and I love it to bits.

My desk

My desk and the matching chair were a craigslist find, and the items on this wall were gifts. The desk provides the perfect amount of space to work in, and it has a wonderful view.

View

When I write at this desk, I am surrounded by the whisperings of the hundreds of books that have influenced me with their pages. There are two more bookcases in other parts of the house, but this is the bulk. On the leftmost bookcase I have antique books, filled journals, writing reference, and to-read. Next is nonfiction with blank notebooks and school binders at the bottom. On the other side, young adult books get a shelf, with filled sketchbooks, art journals, and photo albums at the bottom, and lastly is the fiction shelf with magazines and oversize books at the bottom. This room is such a happy place for me!

LibraryDo you have a room of your own? I highly recommend it. 🙂

 

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

What I’ve Been Reading

Reading List

One of the great advantages of the MFA program I’m in is that I get to read whatever I want. It’s approved by my mentor, of course, and he sometimes makes suggestions based on what I need to work on, but mostly I read what I want. Right now, I am more than halfway through the reading for this semester, and I’m having some trouble choosing what to read next. Have a look at what I’ve read, and what my options are for my next four books. Suggestions on which to choose are welcome!

1. Best American Essays of 2013, edited by Cheryl Strayed. There were many good essays in this collection, and very few that didn’t keep my interest. I chose to write about Megan Stielstra’s poignant “Channel B.”

2. Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard. Dillard might be my favorite when it comes to CNF. Like her Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (which I wrote about here), this essay collection is full of her marvels at creation, observations of the natural world, and realizations that we as humans are a part of it. My paper focused on the short essay “Living With Weasels.”

3. A Pearl in the Storm by Tori McClure. The first book I read this semester that was a memoir rather than a collection of essays, Pearl is full of both personal triumph and the recognition of physical inability.

4. The Art of the Personal Essay, edited by Philip Lopate. I’ll be honest, I haven’t actually read this entire brick of a book yet. I am still working on it, and I have finished the contributions of the American essayists. For my paper I chose to write about Edward Hoagland’s “The Courage of Turtles,” which is a sad reflection on loss of childhood wilderness and wilderness in general.

5. The Essays of E. B. White. White’s casual honesty and ability to criticize in a happy voice made this book my most pleasurable read so far. I’d recommend it to anyone who writes or reads. One theme I notice in my own writing is a nostalgia for things that are going away in the world, and a desire to preserve those that are heading that way but are not gone yet. There is a strong sense of both these things in White’s essays.

6. The Books that Mattered by Frye Gaillard. Another memoir, this time focusing more heavily on research than on experience, this book was useful to me not necessarily for it’s content but for it’s example. Although I was familiar with some of the books Gaillard mentions, it was his ability to weave the contexts of many books together to make a real-life story that impressed me.

Up next, these are approved books I have on the shelf (or in the stack) and ready to read, but can’t quite decide among them which to write essays about. Wanderlust: A History of Walking, by Rebecca Solnit, I very much want to read next. It might even be decided. That leaves me with three more slots to fill, and here are my choices: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, The Gods of Noonday by Elaine Orr, You Have Given Me a Country by Neela Vaswani, and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.

Anyone care to share an opinion?

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.

 

After the Storm

If you live in Michigan, or anywhere nearby, you know what a great storm we had last night. And if you’re anything like me, that means that your first thought this morning was “Let’s go to the beach!”

I like sunbathing and beach reading and lovely wave-narrated naps as much as the next person, but I wanted to go to the beach to find out what had washed up in the night. Unfortunately, because I want to get a graduate degree (I do I do I do), I had to spend the morning inside a really great coffee shop down the road working on a piece for my next packet. (Not really such a sacrifice, come to think of it.) Coincidentally, the piece I’m currently writing is about Lake Michigan and the wide variety of things that can be found along the shore there.

Because of this, I’ve been doing a LOT of reading about Lake Michigan. Everything from books about beach glass and rock picker’s guides to books about shipwrecks and Chicago. So walking along the beach today, there were a lot more facts running through my mind, and my eyes were looking for a lot more than just the usual beach glass. As luck would have it, this meant I found almost nothing (luck, or the dozens of people who scoured the beaches prior to 1PM). Caleb found most of what is in the photo below, while I hunted and shifted and dug and found maybe three pieces.

Hunting for beach glass and fossils is a pretty enjoyable hobby, and it helps that beach glass is far more plentiful here on the lake than it is on the Chesapeake Bay. There is almost always something waiting to be found on the lake shore. And after a big storm, there’s a really good chance of finding it. (As long as you’re not looking too hard – like me.)

treasure