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.

 

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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because doing so may count as publication, and if I finish this thing, I’ll probably want to pitch it as a previously unpublished work.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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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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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?

 

For love or for money?

I recently read one of American Scholar’s “Zinsser on Friday” articles. In the article, “Writing for the Wrong Reasons,” William Zinsser shares the stories of three writers pressured by circumstances (including agents and publishers) to write on subjects not of their choosing while they tabled projects about which they felt passionate. Zinsser ends the article by exhorting writers to focus on their passions rather than their immediate.

It’s a noble view, but it doesn’t pay the rent. I am fortunate in that I am every bit as passionate about my “day job,” teaching high school English, as I am about writing. What’s more, teaching enhances my writing by allowing me to see the world through 130 or so other sets of eyes. What I do to help support my family is a resource, not a distraction. Zinsser does devote a sentence to this option, suggesting that writers “think about other financial solutions that will free [them] to focus on the primary task of becoming a writer.” I don’t see, though, why writing couldn’t serve the same goal as these “other financial solutions.” I view building my platform, including maintaining this blog, the same way as I view my teaching–plus I know that any writing I do helps me become a better writer. Maybe it’s not a question of what we do with our writing, but how we approach it.

 

Published in: on June 14, 2011 at 3:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Science Fiction / Fantasy Camp

For the past week I’ve been teaching at a writing camp run by a friend and affiliated with the Kennesaw Mountain Writing Project. I teach a class in writing science fiction and fanstasy, although I haven’t (yet) published in either of these genres. My students are in middle school, and they are all very serious young writers. I plan to give them a handout at the end of the week; the handout includes inspirational quotations by famous authors, suggested SF/F websites, novels recommended by the campers, and reminders  of points covered in the class. These points are:

  • Build a detailed world.
  • Create natural and social laws.
  • Get in character.
  • Use dialogue.
  • Keep in mind the Hero’s Journey.
  • Use figurative language.
  • Think outside the box.
  • Be proud of your work.
  • Revise, revise, revise.
  • Just keep writing.

Most of these suggestions apply to other genres as well. I especially like the last one because all the thinking about writing, reading about writing, and talking about writing in the world is no substitute for actually writing.

Published in: on June 7, 2011 at 8:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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