Saturday, November 28, 2009

New Writing Exercise

I've been trying out new writing exercises to get me going. For years I did the morning pages in a sort of modified way. I would write for ten minutes, non-stop, stream of consciousness writing. I stopped doing this a while ago because I couldn't see the merit of it. Now, I'm trying something new. I'm doing thirty minutes, and I can do one of two things. I can write about a fiction project or I can do an exercise from a book. Currently, I'm going through the exercise suggestions in Janet Burroway's book.

The exercises are great and are helping me to tap into all kinds of things. The last two days, I wrote about the house where I grew up. It took one day to write about the inside, and one about the yard. but all kinds of other stuff is coming up as well. Memories about toys or grandparents or times I got in trouble.

I got kind of excited yesterday because I was writing about doing something naughty when I was around four. It was one of those things where I knew I was doing something wrong, and I knew I was going to be punished for it, but I just couldn't stop myself. That was the first time I remember that conflicted feeling. I was being bad, and I knew it. And it wasn't that I didn't care. I didn't want to be punished, but I couldn't stop.

I was coloring a bird in my color book, and I drew a purple plume on the top of its head. This plume was a vision that had to be expressed no matter what! It left the page of the color book and covered the bedroom's hard wood floor with its purple, curly magnificence. I knew as I was spreading it across the bedroom floor that I was going to get a spanking. But every time I looked at the bird, it seemed to cry to me to complete it.

See? That's good shit. Who knows what other memories or ideas are in there waiting to be tickled out or mined?

Monday, September 07, 2009

MFA Personal Essay

Well, a lot's happened since the AROHO retreat. I've decided to go back to school and get an MFA in fiction writing. Yep. I know. A huge decision. But, even in the midst of my lingering self-doubt, I have a core of calm certainty. It's time.

So, I've been researching Universities, got a copy of Tom Kealey's excellent book, The Creative Writing MFA Handbook, added Abrahamson Leslie's blog to my RSS feeds. I'm writing personal essays, studying for the GRE, gathering transcripts and trying to figure out who to approach for letters of recommendation.

I have to admit, that last one is the biggest puzzle. Who can write my letters of recommendation? I've been out of college for twenty years. Plus, I hate to ask anyone for anything...ever.

It's already quite an adventure.

This morning I woke up writing personal statement essays in my head. I actually woke up and wrote out a draft. I'm going to let it cook for a day or two and come back to it. It's another of those things where I want to hit the mark, yet stand out, yet not be like the other 450 essays on their desk. I've been sort of preoccupied with coming up with an approach, and then it came to me. Just be myself. Tell my story of why I'm doing this now. It's all about telling a story. One more time.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Retreats and retreating

I'm at a retreat for women writers at the Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, NM. It's beautiful here, and the 90 or so women are brilliant and focused.

As with all situations where I am surrounded by talented, passionate writers, I take dips into places of inadequacy. When I compare myself to others, I always come up short. But that place I descend into is a place of forgetfulness. The deeper I sink, the more I lose site of who I am. Of all the things I am, woman, systems administrator, home owner, community member, of all those things, writer is always at the top of the list. That is mine. I own it. I am it. And the idea that anyone outside of me can diminish that truth is a great lie I tell myself.

I came here with a passive goal. I want to retreat from my world of survival, of work, of dinners with much loved friends. I want to do this so that I can get to the writer in me. That writer has been silenced to a whisper over the years. I approach my subjects with timidity. I always let the imagined audience take me off course. Here, this week, among all of these great women, I am on a quest that can only be carried out alone. I can be part of them, but I must stay focused in my determination to refocus.

It's going fast. We're really only on the 2nd day, but we're already on the 2nd day, if you know what I mean. So, I resolve to write a flash a day. I'm going to post them for critique on zoetrope. And I'm going to fucking get on with it! It's time for the old girl to stop whispering.

Monday, July 13, 2009


When all else fails, I return to my old routines. When it comes to writing, I have to get going on the keyboard. That old exercise of doing morning pages has always come to my rescue.

Here's what I do. I have a Nokia phone with a countdown timer on it. When I first wake in the morning, before I do anything else, before the night's dreams have evaporated, I set the timer for ten minutes and begin writing. I have years of notebooks of hand-written pages. These days, I'm doing it directly on the computer. Either way, ten minutes, no editor, no going back, just stream writing. Sometimes I just write complaints about stuff in my life. But I like to write about writing. This is a time to write about ideas, formats, what I think about my current writing projects, brainstorm. It helps me to start the day thinking about my novel or a flash I'm working on or to flesh out an idea that presented itself when I didn't have a notebook handy.

After the timer goes off, I read something inspirational. One of my favorites is to have a book of Mary Oliver's poetry next to my bed. I think her work is gorgeous. Her poetry fills me with wonder and gratitude. It makes me feel included in the flow of life.

Wherever I go from there with my day, I will take thoughts of writing with me, whispering on my shoulder.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Getting Unstuck

I just realized that I haven’t posted anything on this blog in a couple of months! I don’t know why, but lately, the idea of writing anything longer than an inane facebook blurb makes me curl into a ball or fire up WoW.

I just got a new laptop. My first Macbook. It’s the most wonderful thing in my house, well, besides The Princess. I’m kicking myself for not getting one sooner. Why have I been screwing around with Dells all this time? Oh, don’t get me wrong. I still love my little Dell running Linux, even if it is Ubuntu. Everyone should have a computer that fits in her purse. But this Macbook is the bomb.

For one thing, it’s running UNIX in the background (FreeBSD). So, I can open a shell and do whatever I want from the command line. I got so excited that I volunteered to create a whole web page. I love coding with a shell window and don’t understand how anyone can use tools like Dreamweaver.

Anyway, this has nothing to do with writing, or, as this article implies, not writing.

I have a couple of flash ideas in my head, and they’ve been bubbling to the top and taking on different sounds. I got about fifty pages into my 2nd YA novel and thought that the time of wasted time was over. I started rolling on it. Then I screeched to a halt. When I went back to page one and read over what I’d written, I couldn’t keep my attention on it. So, if I can’t even stay interested, how can I expect ANY readers to?

Not only that, but I made the mistake of visiting one of those agent sites, and the agent host was grumbling about how sick he was of books about misfit teens who have paranormal experiences. Other agents chimed in and said, “Us too! Boy are we sick of those!” Er, sorry, but I happen to be writing a teen book about a misfit who has a paranormal experience. Shit. Then they say things like, “It’s okay as long as it’s fresh.” They don’t want things that are off the beaten path, but they don’t want anything that’s been done before. It can’t be “another Twilight,” (I happen to agree that we don’t need another of those) but it can’t be something that’s so different that it’s not a sure thing. Pretty narrow road. Esta, my children’s librarian friend, says that she knows what teen girls want, and they want misfit-teen-having-paranormal-experience novels. I used to think I had a fresh idea, and now I’m not sure. Shit shit shit.

My other novel idea, the one I’ve written a lot of notes on but haven’t started to really organize yet, is the one about five lesbian friends who all find themselves single at the same time for the first time in their friendship. The format of the novel is to bring them together and then give each one a separate thread. The women range from mid-thirties to mid-fifties. Then I read this post from a woman on one of the writer’s forums I frequent, someone renowned for her passive-aggressive critiques, say that she has read that no one wants to read stories about middle-aged women. Er, sorry again, assholes. I’m at that late-middle age stage, and I find it quite interesting to WRITE about middle-aged women. I also like to read about women my age. What am I supposed to do, spend my older years reading fucking chick-lit? Well, I kind of like chick-lit, but, guilty pleasures aside, what the fuck am I supposed to write.

So, the point of this article, which has taken an extraordinarily long time to get to, is this. There are times when it’s an absolute fucking mistake to seek out the opinions of others. When ideas are curling, ride the foam, baby! Stay OUT of agent blogs. They may be helpful in some ways, but contributing to the creative process is NOT one of them. Take them off of RSS feeds and pretend they don’t exist. And spend minimal time in writer’s forums. Do whatever it takes to bolster creativity.

In the spirit of doing things that make me feel creative, I designated this weekend as Truman Capote weekend. I love his writing. I rented Breakfast at Tiffany’s and am reading the story as well. I’m also reading other Capote stories. I rented Infamous, which I like even better in some way that Capote. With both Infamous and Capote, there’s the added bonus of having Harper Lee present.

And, look! It’s worked. I’ve written this.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Juices Going

I'm caught up in a Flash-a-thon on Zoetrope this week. It's a great way for me to assuage the guilt I've been feeling for not working on my novel lately.

I participated in one of these about a year ago, and it was a rush. Not only was I pushed to write, fast and furious, as many flash fictions as I could possibly get out, but I had the complete pleasure of reading lots and lots of other writers' flashes. I became a fan of so many new (to me) writers who frequent the Zoetrope flash forum.

Feedback is such an important thing for me. I can critique and submit flashes to Zoe and feel a sense of belonging that comes with community. But I think this atmosphere is unique on Zoe to the Flash Forum.

The same just doesn't hold true for the novella wing. I've wondered why this is. Is it because reading and critiquing a piece of someone's novel is more of an investment in time? Maybe it's because reading something from start to finish is difficult, given that writings are posted in digestible chunks. Or that it's unlikely that anyone will read my book from start to finish for the same reasons.

Either way, I'm on the prowl for a writer's group where I can get feedback for my novel.

In the meantime, it's flash, Flash FLASH until I drop.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Don't Sweat It!

I just read a post on a writer's forum from a guy who is working to outline his novel. He is wondering whether he should write the book, aiming at a specific word count. So many aspects of a novel can be considered prior to writing it. There are volumes of books written about issues like pacing, character profiling, narrative distance, length, genre attributes, formulas. Agents post blogs all over the internet, stating their needs and wants with clarity and volume. Publisher's Weekly posts trends, hot spots and areas to avoid.

There's so much friggin information on the internet about how to reach your target market, find an agent, get published, market your work. Writers are encouraged to grovel and beg, ass kiss, present their souls with humility and sheepish confidence. Queries are to be written with meticulous care, not too humble, not too familiar, not too off beat. We're to follow the agent's instructions and formulas to the letter but must be original, fresh, eye-grabbing. Conform, yet stand out in the crowd. What an order!

All of these mandates, all of these directives are, I think, more of a bitch list of irritants on the part of agents rather than an iron-clad formula for Getting In. Of course, when the time comes to seek representation, it's a good idea to follow the directions on the agent's web page when submitting a query. If he or she wants 3 chapters and a synopsis, do it. But drop the agony. It's boring.

It's easy for me to give advice, even though my first novel has never been published. But there are a lot of people out there who have a novel inside of them, but it never gets written because the writer's head is swimming with all of these rules and judgments. So, here it is. When writing a first draft of a novel, just go for it. Don't sweat the word count or what publishers think or want or look for. Don't worry about what agents think they want. I've come to the conclusion that they only know what they want when they see it. When I think about anything other than the central goal of Getting the Book Out of Me, I freeze up.

Giving It Over turned out to be right on the mark at 55,000 words, which is perfect for a YA novel. I didn't plan that. The story took just that long to tell. With my second novel, I've had the story in my head, but I clouded it with worries and stayed frozen for over 2 years. I kid you not. Every time I tried to write, I just went blank. I found out I was writing to the wrong audience, for one thing. My audience wasn't the prospective agent or the publishing houses or even my critique group. My audience is a gaggle of teen-aged girls...and myself.

I'm writing now, and I'm so grateful for that. I want the first draft to be the easy part. The first draft should be the filled with the pleasure of writing. It should take me back to the reason I started this process in the first place. Getting to The Zone, letting my characters surprise me, spending time with them and finding myself in them, tucking stories within stories. Once the first draft is written, I can give it a tummy tuck and apply makeup.

Writing! What a process! And we so often become our own stumbling blocks to doing it. Why do I have to remind myself so often that I love to write? I'm just as guilty as anyone of spending time on the agent blogs, dipping into PW, taking to heart what other writers tell me. I always come back to the real and enduring reason I write. Because I love to.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Word Watch

I saw this ad on the margin of my facebook screen today:

Washington moms are eligible for a free $10.000 scholarship. Read more.

All I can say is I'd hate to get a scholarship I had to PAY for. I'm glad this scholarship is free.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Found this today:

I uploaded the first 9 chapters of Giving It Over and am interested in seeing how this works. Looks like a fresh idea by Harper Collins.

Monday, March 02, 2009

What Literary Figure Would You Like to Be?

This question was recently posed in a private rooms on Zoetrope. What a tough question, and one with an ever-changing answer.

After careful deliberation, I decided that right now (because this is subject to change without notice) I would like to be Miss Saeki in Murakami's Kafka on the Shore. She's beautiful, tragic, mysterious and full of dignity. As a literary figure, she's what I refer to as "The One Who Knows." The book is full of secrets and mystery, and Miss Saeki sits at her desk, sipping her coffee, quietly watching us to see our reaction.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Err on the side of audacity.

Right now, I'm celebrating my love and appreciation for Sue Monk Kidd. The Secret Life of Bees is available on cable right now, and I think I've watched it five times. I think they did a great job with the movie, but Kidd's writing is so much richer. Her books are so layered with wonderful symbols that trickle down into the folds and secret places of women. I just can't get enough of her right now.

So, I went to her web page, and she has some great stuff for writers.

Err on the side of audacity is one of the tips she has on her list of The Ten Most Helpful Things I Could Ever Tell Anyone About Writing

Now that I'm on a role with my 2nd YA novel (I just can't stop writing), she has reminded me of the most important question I need to ask:

What does my character want?

I think I know. Now that she's been ripped away from home and her best friend, she wants to find someone she can trust and feel safe with. Emily will find such people in her new town, but the ultimate journey will be in learning how to trust herself.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


I noticed that one of the songs on my Kitaro CD is titled Dance of Sarasvati. I looked her up and found this:

Sarasvati is the Hindu Goddess of all arts: music, painting, sculpture, dance, and writing. She is credited with presenting the gift of writing to mankind so that her songs could be written down and preserved. Sarasvati is often depicted on the back of a swan or peacock, and with four arms, with which she plays the lute or drum and bestows jeweled blessings. She is the Goddess of eloquence, and words pour from her like a sweetly flowing river. One myth of this Goddess is that She is a jealous rival of the Goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, and that pursuing wealth alone will assure that Sarasvati's gifts will desert you.

What could be a more fitting muse for a writer?

I don't have delusions of becoming a gazillionaire with my writing. But I do get caught up in the desire to be published. Nothing is a more sure block to writing than getting my muse confused. When my muse becomes a prospective agent or publishing house or even my desired audience, it slows me down and effects the quality of my work. My goal, now that my new novel is starting to live all around me, is to keep a clear, uncluttered channel between me and Sarasvati. Only by doing this can I ensure that the book gets written true to its vision and not true to what I tell myself someone else might want it to be.

So, my imagination should be used to write the book and not to body forth the book's life cycle.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Writing Breakthrough

I can't say it's been worth it, but this long period of blockage has been more productive than I realized. One of the things about writing that I find so interesting is that it takes place when I'm not writing. Or maybe I'm writing all the time, and just don't know it. So, when I'm blow drying my hair or cooking cauliflower gratin or waiting in a left turn lane, I'm writing. Stories cook, the details blending and maturing, while I'm waiting for the commuter bus or feeding my cat.

I've had what I think is a very interesting YA novel in my head for some time now, and I've been utterly stuck. I know what happens, all the nuts and bolts, but I couldn't write. I just didn't like any of the attempts I made to flesh out the story. They all seemed flat, like a deflated cardboard box. My main character had no soul.

Well, a couple of days ago, she started talking. Her voice surprised me, because she's kind of harsh. Definitely someone who doesn't make friends easily. Can I have that in a main character? Of course, I can. She's on the brink of a journey she can't imagine, geographically and spiritually. Now that she's talking, I can't wait to take her on it.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Room

I just read an essay someone pointed me to, and will post the link to it here. I thought this one of the most eloquent descriptions of what it means to be a writer as I've ever read. But then, I appreciate anyone who knows that writing is supposed to be dangerous. Here it is: The Talent of the Room