On Writing and Dolphins

Just a brief posting to check in; I know it’s been a while.

I was recently getting some well-earned rest on Tybee Island, GA, where my husband and I were fortunate enough to have an ocean-view room. Our first morning there, I viewed the ocean from our room’s balcony, wondering if I’d see any dolphins. I had been to Tybee many times, and I’d often seen dolphins. This particular morning, however, I saw none.

That was okay, though. The waves still hit the shore, and the sun still shone. My morning was every bit as relaxing and rejuvenating as it would have been had I seen a dolphin, or even a pod of dolphins.

I realized that the dolphinless shore was an apt metaphor for my recent writing. Although the piece that I’m currently writing (working title: The Saddest but Best Thing I’ve Ever Written) is not going as well as I had hoped by this point, that too is okay. I may not end up with the outcome I desire (see working title), but maybe the endeavor isn’t about said outcome. The fact is, I love to write, and every time I write, my writing improves. I feel better when I write than when I don’t. Just as the shore’s value remains regardless of whatever is swimming in it, so does writing’s value remain regardless of what, if anything, ends up breaking through the surface.

 

Published in: on April 8, 2016 at 12:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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Memory of an Ill-Spent Life?

I’m not suggesting that my life has been ill-spent. The proverbial jury is still out on that one and, I hope, will be for some time. The life I’m referring belongs–belonged–to another.

I’m already getting ahead of myself.

I’ve begun writing an essay about a dream I had about 15 years ago–a dream in which one of the most reprehensible people I’ve ever known (and I’ve known some pretty reprehensible people) returned from the grave to threaten me. (I won’t go into detail because doing so may count as publication, and if I finish this thing, I’ll probably want to pitch it as a previously unpublished work. Plus, I really don’t feel like getting into it right now.)  I really want to focus on the dream, but I will need to give at least a little background. it occurred to me, however, that should I publish the essay, said reprehensible person would be, on some level, immortalized. I don’t want to immortalize him.

Am I rationalizing an as yet unmade decision not to continue a project that forces me to think of things I’d rather not think about? I can see where that might be the case. I realize, of course, that this is what much writing involves, and I haven’t rationalized abandoning other unpleasant projects. Whether or not I am rationalizing, at any rate, I think the point is valid.

I think I’ll continue writing the essay, at least for now. Even if I never send it out, writing it will help me be a better writer. Who knows? Maybe as I write, the essay will go in some direction that will compensate for the immortality factor. Maybe it will even turn into something else entirely.

There’s only one way to find out.

Published in: on April 5, 2015 at 9:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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I’m Covered

This Winter Break, which ends Monday, is proving to be a good one. Besides getting some rest and spending time with my family, I’ve been writing–and not only this post. I’ve finished (I think) a short essay that I will probably submit tomorrow. (I feel like I need to sleep on it and look at it with fresh eyes one last time.) I spent much of this evening working on a cover letter. Not having done this for some time, I was less than confident, so I did some research. The consensus was:

1. Keep it brief.

2. Mention the word count.

3. Mention the title.

4. Mention relevant credits.

5. Include one’s name and contact information.

This is what I ended up with:

Dear [Editor’s Name],

Attached is my [word count]-word essay [“Title”]. Thank you for considering it for publication in [Journal].

My nonfiction has been published in [Anthology] (Publisher).

I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

[Name]

Yes, it took me much of the evening to write four sentences.

As for the details of my submission, I’ll save them for once the piece is accepted, whenever or wherever that may be. I’m superstitious like that. Wish me luck!

Published in: on January 3, 2014 at 4:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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I’m Back!

After taking a brief hiatus from this blog, I’m happy to return. I’ve been busy with all sorts of things, one of which was this summer’s Camp NaNoWriMo (see my previous post).

Last summer, Camp NaNoWriMo took place in June. In those 30 days, I drafted a novel retelling the story of the Holy Grail from the point of view of Sir Bors, the only one of King Arthur’s knights to achieve the Grail and return to Camelot. This summer, the Camp took place in July. At first I was excited to have an extra day–July, after all, does have 31 days–in which to write my retelling of Beowulf from the point of view of Wealtheow, King Hrothgar’s wife. Soon, however, the realization that I had to return to work on July 31 set in, and although I completed the novel on the 30th, I really could have used more down time before work.

For the most part, both experiences were positive. I accomplished a difficult goal, and the 100,000+ words I wrote surely improved my writing. Those 100,000+ words also confirmed my hunch that I am probably better off sticking with nonfiction. As it turned out, both projects became more of a chore than a pleasure about halfway through. I understand that this frustration is probably part of the novel writing process, and I’m glad that I participated both times, but I think that next year I’d like to enjoy my summer a bit more. Now that I have drafts of two novels, my time might be better spent revising them than bringing another draft into the world.

Have any of you ever participated in NaNoWriMo or Camp NaNorWriMo? If so, what was your experience like?

Published in: on September 7, 2013 at 6:07 pm  Comments (1)  
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Back from Camp

I did it! I participated in my very first Camp NaNoWriMo, and I succeeded in writing a novel of at least 50,000 words (50,162 in my case) in a month. Two of my friends joined me and succeeded as well. I’m so proud of myself!

Camp NaNoWriMo has done so many things for me in such a short period of time that I must share them:

1. For a long time, I’ve seen myself as a writer of nonfiction. Now I see fiction as a possibility for me.

2. The time constraint and word count forced me to dispose of my “Inner Editor” (as author and speaker Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo and author of No Plot, No Problem) calls it and just write. I couldn’t be my usual perfectionist self, so I coudn’t second guess myself, start over, trash the project entirely, etc.

3. No matter how bad my novel is–and it is very, very bad–I’ve written over 50,000 words, and I’ve written for hours. All this writing will make me a better writer.

4. Even though in theory I agree with Jean-Paul Sartre (I think it was he) who said that we are not what we do, my self esteem is the highest it’s been since I can remember.

5. Having accomplished a daunting task, I am a positive role model for my daughter and my students.

6. I saved money. Every hour I spent writing was an hour I did not spend shopping.

Have you ever participted in a writing marathon? I’d love to hear about your experience!

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Published in: on July 2, 2012 at 8:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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I’m Off to Camp!

Ever since I first heard of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I’ve wanted to participate. The fact that it takes place in November is what dissuaded me. I realize that others have managed to hold down a job while writing a novel of at least 50,000 words in 30 days, but it never seemed like a realistic proposition to me. You can imagine my glee, then, when I recently discovered Camp NaNoWriMo, the same 30-day writing frenzy as its predecessor except that it occurs in June–right after my school year ends. I and a few of my equally daring (or is it masochistic?) friends signed up to share a “cabin,” and I plan to write at least 1,600 words by this time tomorrow. I can’t wait!

Published in: on June 1, 2012 at 1:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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Why Blogging?

Let me start off by saying that I have no intentions of ever leaving me “day job.” I love teaching and I love my students; I just figured that a side project would keep me writing and, I hope, bring in a little extra cash by the time my daughter starts college. (Because of budget cuts, I’m making less money than I did three years ago, and my state revoked the 10% bonus it promised National Board certified teachers–but more about that another time.)

I initially planned to start a small writing and editing business and thought this blog would be part of my platform. Then I decided to focus on blogging because:

1. I love blogging more than I could have imagined.

2. Blogging allows me to write in small chunks–ideal for someone with a full-time job and short attention span.

3. Blogging allows me to see the proverbial fruits of my labors right away.

4. Blogging jobs are plentiful and varied. See, for example, the FreelanceSwitch Job Board and WhisperJobs.

5. Blogging requires no overhead, so anything I make goes directly into the child’s college fund.

These are the first reasons that came to my mind, but I’d love to hear other people’s motivations for blogging.

Wish me luck!

On Balance

One of the challenges I’ve faced for a long time is balance. Like many people, I’ve been working on finding a balance between family, career, and writing, not to mention other hobbies. I’m on summer break, so achieving balance should not be difficult, and it wasn’t for a few weeks. I devoted every other day to blogging and the remainder to other writing. If I got a chunk done on Blogging Day, I allowed myself to work on my latest  essay, and if I got a chunk done on Writing Day, I allowed myself to blog or conduct  blog-related research. I also made time to chauffer my daughter around, spend time with her, relax with my husband, and practice my drumming. This plan worked for a little while.

Now a new element has thrown itself into the mix—my day job. I’ll be back teaching in a few weeks, and the kids will be back in school the week after that. I made my daughter a deal: Every day she will work on her summer assignments, and while she does so, I will prepare for this school year. I’ve managed to keep all my balls in the air except one—my writing. I should be able to carve out some time during the day or evening, but it hasn’t happened in a while.

This last point scares me. If I’m having trouble now, what will I do next month, when I have three sets of AP essays to grade, and a bunch of other work to do, at any given time? I could wake up half an hour earlier, but I already wake up at 5:00 a.m. during the school year, so that’s not going to happen. Nor will going to bed half an hour later, as I get too little sleep as it is. I’ll have to work in some time in the afternoon. This possibility raises the question of why I am not doing it now. Maybe I’ll institute a “Sacred Writing Half Hour” and see how that works. Wish me luck!

 

Published in: on July 12, 2011 at 12:51 am  Leave a Comment  
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Writing to Heal

Recently CNN published an article titled “How Words Have the Power to Heal.” It’s a good article, citing the author’s own experience as a breast cancer survivor as well as research by Dr. James Pennebaker, who pioneered the field of writing-as-healing, and Nancy Morgan, who directs the Writing and Health Initiative at Georgetown’s Lombardi Cancer Center.

My purely anecdotal evidence supports Pennebaker and Morgan’s findings. About five years ago, I received a shocking and ill-phrased diagnosis from a doctor with the bedside manner of Victor Frankenstein. I’m fine now, and my operation at the hands of an excellent and kind neurosurgeon went well, but I had not predicted the challenges of my emotional and physical recovery. I looked fine, and everyone acted like I was, but I wasn’t. My spoken words could not express the magnitude of my experience, so I did what came naturally to me–I wrote. I wrote feverishly and often, and my written words were able to realize the experience in ways my spoken words could not.

I didn’t share my writing with anyone–I still haven’t–but it helped me immensely. It not only released and described my emotions but also gave them shape. As I moved from pure expressivism to narrative, I found order in the chaos–or I imposed order on it. The narrative gave me a sense of control, wresting it from a situation in which I had no control. When I consider the research as well as my own experience, I highly recommend writing to those healing from emotional or physical trauma.

 

Published in: on July 8, 2011 at 1:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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On Edginess

The most recent issue of Harpers Magazine includes part of an interview George Saunder conducted with Patrick Dacey. In it Dacey discusses “edginess,” the quality that would leave him dissatisfied with writing a lovely if “corny” scene and motivate him to add something ironic or snarky or awful. He suggests that this approach prevents writers from seeing “the spiritual, the ineffable, the earnest, the mysterious” and therefore limits our view of the human condition. As I catch up on my reading this summer, I’ll have to see if Dacey’s words ring true. What do you think?