The Writerly Habit

This blog is about my struggles to get into the habit of writing regularly.

The Top Ten Moments of the Decade

Another year ending, this time the close of a decade. The news stations have compiled their top ten lists of the moments that made the decade. The rise of gossip media and Britney shaving her head have made the list. Where are the truly monumental moments, the ones that reached past trash media and truly impacted our lives?

Somehow, Heath Ledger's death holds more weight than President Bush declaring war on Iraq, or the fact that we've learned to speak a new language. Words like Fallujah and Abu Ghraib have infiltrated our everyday conversations. We all know what it means to pull a Columbine (4/99), it's eerie remnants echo through countless campus killings including Virginia Tech, that have plagued this past decade.

We've learned to associate terror with the skin color and culture of a people, easily forgetting the domestic terror that happens in homes across America. Somehow, a father slipping into his daughter's bed at night is less important than imposing our idea of freedom on a country thousands of miles away. Our soldiers laying dead in the sand, their bodies blown apart by i.e.d's, have become the new face of patriotism.

People live in Tent City, along I-25 and other areas in Colorado Springs, driven there by adjustable rate mortgages and unemployment while our city government offers $53 million in incentives to keep the U.S. Olympic Training Center from moving it's headquarters. The poor are left to suffer and die, yet their deaths get less air time than the increase in cosmetic surgeries over the last ten years.

Perhaps, as the decade closes, we should take a look at our media and the ignorance it perpetuates. Realize that this has been a decade of indifference. That we are no longer surprised by deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan or pictures of prisoner abuse. The poor of this country continue to suffer. Children in less affluent areas, and around the world, still get hookworm and other diseases for want of a pair of shoes while celebrities spend over $1,000 on a single pair. We aren't shocked by this, worse yet, many seek to emulate this behavior.

Resolve, as a new decade begins, to open your eyes to these disparities. See your contribution to the media mentality that seeks to dictate importance. Recognize what is truly worth fighting for and what can be done without.

Blocks


I started this week with a great writing meeting. Every so often, I meet with friends from last summer's creative nonfiction class. I was pretty happy that we actually talked about writing this time, normally we just socialize. Anyway, we met last week and assigned a prompt (write about a current event), then this week we were to bring work to share. Despite being unwilling to work on it most of the week, I managed to write 2.5 pages. I went to the coffee shop early and wrote before the meeting. While I was there, we talked a lot about blocks. For me, it isn't that I don't think I have anything worthwhile to say or that I don't have any ideas. I have plenty of ideas and have come to accept my viewpoint as valid and worthwhile. When it comes to writing...well I just don't want to.

I know I need to write, but I somehow can't bring myself to sit down and do it. A friend of mine suggested that it might be an environmental problem. That is entirely possible. When I am at home, I am distracted by other things I could (or think I should) be doing instead. My friend recommended going to a coffee shop at a designated time in order to write. She says I need to treat it like a job. It would be interesting to see if my output increases if I get out of the house. I'll try it.

What I'd really like is to be motivated to work from home. The environment is more comfortable and the tea is better (not to mention free). If you are listening, Pikes Perk on North Academy, your green tea is horribly bitter. Any ideas on motivating myself to work at home?


Image from The Wandering Eater

Dreaming about Your Writing

I've been reading Louise DeSalvo's Writing as a Way of Healing for a few weeks now. Last night, I was reading about how authors may dream about their work. The kind of writing DeSalvo is talking about is personal narrative that relates emotion and events.

For me, I have never dreamed about my work. I've never felt that kind of connection. A few weeks ago, I decided I would write a memoir about my first marriage. I hadn't thought about it since then, or so I thought. Last night, after I read the section on writers dreaming, I had a dream about it.

It was strange, I was on a cruise ship and put through an express line for check-in. There at the other end was my ex-husband only it looked nothing like him. The dream him was way better looking. Anyway, we were being offered $100,000 to get married again. We decided to go ahead with it and if we hated each other and had to get a divorce on our return then at least we had the money. Weird.

Anyway, check out DeSalvo's book. It is excellent. She also recommends a book called Writers Dreaming. I haven't read it by it's a penny on Amazon so what could it hurt.

Giving Yourself Room to Write


So I'm sitting at my perpetually cluttered desk feeling particularly uninspired. Admittedly, I am horribly messy when it comes to my desk. Part of it is laziness, I don't want to put away things I will need again in the immediate future (also because things tend to get lost when I do). Part is that I have no idea where to put things. I have so much junk/papers/books/pens it is overwhelming. It just seems that I have trouble getting my thoughts straight when it is in such a disastrous state. As I prepare to clean my desk off the words of my writing teacher come back to me: remember to give yourself room to write. Whether it is a desk or the coffee table make sure that you honor your work by keeping the space clean. Not only will you be more likely to write, you'll be more likely to consider your work valid. Happy cleaning!

On a side note, some people work well with a messy desk. If you like a little chaos just make sure it is the right kind. Keep candy wrappers and other garbage out of your space.

The Death of Cursive Writing?


In a recent ABC news article, it was suggested that cursive writing is becoming obsolete in the classroom. Since penmanship (supposedly) does not increase past the third grade, there is no reason to continue to teach it. Most schools require homework to be typed, not handwritten. Here's my thought, even if penmanship peaks, if you never hand write anything your writing will get worse. You'll get rusty. Second, what kind of children are we raising? For me, I write all of my work longhand. There is a mind-hand connection there that really started to develop in junior high/high school. My writing is more fluid and I connect with my subject matter easier. What happens to these kids who don't have the same connection but are instead plunked down in front of a computer? I can't imagine not being able to fill out paperwork, write a check, address an envelope, write a letter, sign my name or write in a journal. Handwriting is unique, don't believe me? Check out any graphology site. You can tell a lot about a person just by their handwriting.

We're already shifting away from reading books in the classroom. Some schools require laptops and when a teacher asks a question, kids are asked to Google it and see what everyone came up with. While this is useful for teaching kids how to find good sources on the internet, it is not a good daily practice. By using the computer screen, kids learn how to scan and pick out keywords. They don't learn how to read longer sections and come up with original thoughts based on it. I just wonder what this is going to do to literacy rates and also what kind of writers will come out of this next generation.

Book Review: Wounds of Passion

Wounds of Passion was written by bell hooks as a memoir of her writing life. It is framed by her childhood experiences and a ten year relationship with another poet named Mack. The book is written as a hermit crab (as well as collage) lyric essay, wherein things that are painful to confront are often written in third person. The remainder is written in first person. This shift to third person also helps you to see into hook's character, more than first person (as it can be emotionally involving). I saw myself in a lot of her struggles and pain.

After reading it, I walked away with the sense that I truly was a writer. She doesn't have the overly ambitious I-write-sixteen-hours-a-day hyped up media image work ethic. Instead, she works for short amounts of time but is totally focused and pushes. I like her approach with this book and I think you will too. If anything, it is a beautiful model of the hermit crab and how it can be used to hang an entire novel. An interesting side note, she also mentions how certain subjects choose you. You can read more about this in my previous post.

What Subjects Have Chosen You?


I see myself changing, becoming more political as a writer. I also see myself becoming opinionated and willing to speak my opinions. We have these romantic notions that we can't write about anything important because we didn't live through _______ fill in the blank. For me it was the thought that nothing important was happening, I didn't live through apartheid, the 60's power movements...what could I possibly have to say? Then I read an essay called Being a Product of Your Dwelling Place by Nadine Gordimer. It is featured in the book The Writing Life: Writers on How They Think and Work edited by Marie Arana.

In the essay, Gordimer states that we are all products of our environment and that it will show up in our work whether we intend to or not. She says that "none of us can 'choose our subjects' free of the contexts that contain our lives, shape our thoughts, influence every aspect of our existence." So then I started thinking about what subjects have chosen me. What are things that I have lived through and experienced. September 11th, the Iraq War, Operation Desert Storm, Hurricane Katrina, Columbine, abuses at Abu Ghraib. I've barely scratched the surface and yet I have found a wealth of subjects. These are subjects that many people aren't writing about, at least not from a personal standpoint. Sure we see it in the news but I want to read essays about the emotional impact of Columbine on a mid-Western housewife. I want to see the human element that is so often stripped out of our history. Where are the narratives?

What I'm really trying to say is don't be afraid to explore these subjects. You have a voice, use it. Your pen can be both a tool and weapon.

Your Writing Process


I have the good fortune of taking a class called "Writing as if your life depended on it" at university this semester. My teacher made a startling point the other day, she asked "what are you willing to consider your writing process?" The answers were varied: music, drawing, running, journaling etc. Sometimes, in my case, the passage of time is part of it. I have to let an idea percolate. This is true with fiction, non-fiction, essays...anything I write. If I sit down as soon as I have an idea or assignment, the work seems forced and I get bored quickly. If I wait, it's as if my subconscious is processing the idea while I go about my day. The point I am trying to make is that sitting at your desk typing is part of your writing process but it certainly isn't all of it. Pay attention to what helps inspire, focus or center you and do it.

On a side note, The Writer has a wonderful article this month on how writing is fun for some and agony for others. Finally, my viewpoint is represented. My therapist once told me that if I indeed had been meant to be a written I would wake up every morning with a burning desire to write. What a load of hooey. Also check out the article by Tim Bascom on truth and lies in non-fiction.

Journaling: Day 10 (Mandala)

Creating Mandalas


I am a couple of days late, but I did my exercises for week two. The first was to draw a mandala, however I wanted. Then I had to write a story about it. I have to admit, at first I was sceptical. It seemed silly and I didn't want to do it...but I did. I ended up drawing a frosted donut with sprinkles, then I began to write inside of it. I realized that I was very angry with myself, with the way I eat. That realization made the writing exercise very easy.

I also started using my timer for the exercises and journal writing. It really does help keep me on track. I found out that the stainless steel looking ones at Wal-mart are noiseless, problem is the alarm often scares me.

I Prefer Not To....

I was reading an interesting article from the LA Times on The Lost Art of Reading. In it, author David Ulin talks about how he has trouble focusing or actually sitting down to read anymore. Amid the distractions of the modern age, who really has time or (of those who do) who can cut through all the muck and focus? Ulin is a book editor at The Times for goodness sakes. If he can't read, what hope is there for the rest of us? Let alone writing.

Ah well, I guess it just takes a force of will. We are losing our abilities to concentrate because of the way we are training our brains. We no longer read but scan and this makes it harder for us to focus when we actually sit down to read. Check out this article from the Atlantic Is Google Making Us Stupid?. Of course I think it would've been funnier if it was titled Is Google Making Us Stoopid, but a minor point. So, what hope is there for us? How do we get back in touch with that inner book lover once again? How do we dust of our collection of fine leather bound books and stop using the writings of Benjamin Franklin to hold up the sagging middle of our cheap couch (wait TMI there)?

I think the best way to begin reading again is to start slowly. Start with a fun piece of literature that you can just plow through (such as genre fiction). You've got to build your reading self confidence back up slowly. Just diving in headfirst to War and Peace or Mutiny on the Bounty will only crush that carefully kindled reading spark. Check out free audiobooks on iTunes (there are tons) and listen to them in the car or when waiting in line/at the dr's office/on your lunch break, wherever.

I guess what I'm really saying is let's get off our lazy butts and read. I know it is easier to pull a Bartleby and say "I prefer not to" but the literacy and academic level of our society is at stake. Ok, I'll get off my soapbox now.


Journaling: Day 5

Alright so I did my journaling last night. I was in a pretty foul mood yet, as I was writing I seemed to feel better. I started out with stream of consciousness and that led me to my lack of a novel idea. I had a short story idea but had no idea how to work it into a full length novel. Then it hit me, as I wrote, I would write it as a collage. Different time periods in my character's life. Aha! I felt so pumped I ran out and bought a nice little timer ($4.97 for a stainless steel one, $3 for white plastic) at Wal-mart. Tonight I will be writing out my writing action plan (from the aforementioned Time to Write) and then, starting on Thursday I will dedicate 30 minutes a night to my novel. I got one of the old fashioned egg timers that tic, which will make me push more. It feels great to be excited about a project again, I just needed to journal to tap into my creativity. This is something I will continue. Toodles!

Journaling: Day 4

Ok, so I didn't journal last night. I know, I know. I had the opportunity but didn't take it. Instead, I fell asleep while reading Time to Write: Professional writers reveal how to fit writing into your busy life. It's a pretty good book, very similar to The Write Type: Discover Your True Writer's Identity and Create a Customized Writing Plan which was published a few months earlier. In Time to Write, the author states that you must have a burning desire to write. Is that really true because, if so, I have a problem. I don't really have the burning desire anymore...is that why I find it so difficult to develop a habit or am I merely moody and lazy? Who knows. I'm hoping to become a little more inspired on the later chapters, one is titled "how to write when you don't feel like it." Yes sir, that sounds like one for me!

On the plus side, I got myself a new spiral (Trapper Keeper ftw) and more of my favorite writing pens. If you must know, they are Pilot brand Precise V5, extra fine in black. They write really smoothly. Not that I'm a pen snob or anything....cough cough. Anyhow, I hope to get more work done today and perhaps do some free writing.

Journaling: Day 2 & 3


So I didn't update last night, don't worry I'm not crapping out. My internet was down so I couldn't post. It is interesting journaling on the computer. Although gnote is proving more useful, I miss the connection of pen and paper. There's a sense of pouring yourself out onto the written page that just doesn't happen with a computer. Maybe I'm old fashioned in that way. I've always written better longhand. I love typewriters, but they are so slow. I'm not sure yet how this is going to help. I haven't been journaling long enough to realized the benefits (which I only normally see after I have quit).

Anyway, here's a great article on Keeping a Journal. This is also where I found the above photo, lovely isn't it?

Journaling: Day 1

So I started journaling again today. I'm trying it on the computer so we'll see how that goes. I've been searching the net but haven't found any software I like. I want it to have the look of a paper journal AND be affordable. Is that too much to ask? Anyone, I'm working on gnote so we'll see how that goes. So far I don't like it, I can't figure out how to see all of my notes at once. Tonight's exercise was to journal for ten minutes and I managed to get that done. Anyway, I'm going to go get something to eat.

One Year to a Writing Life: A New Plan

As I begin my final semester at the community college and prepare to move to university (in January), I realized that it is time to get my writing in gear. My ability to produce has been halted and for a long time I couldn't figure out why. Tonight, I started reading One Year to a Writing Life: Twelve Lessons to Deepen Every Writer's Art and Craft by Susan Tiberghien and I realized what it was. Journaling. No really, journaling. For some reason, if I am actively journaling, I find it easier to write. Probably because it develops a habit and it allows me to get a lot of the junk out of my head (that usually keeps me from writing).

For the next year, I will be using the book to see if I actually develop a writing life. Each chapter has a different focus. The first chapter/month is journaling. Each chapter has a list of recommended books. I plan to read at least one of these in the corresponding month. So, wish me luck. We'll see how it goes. Feel free to follow along. :)


Rush to the Rockies (Colorado Springs Event)


I'm sure most writers, like me, love pens/paper/journals...any tools of the trade. On Saturday June 6th, at East Library, there will be a symposium on Pikes Peak Regional History. Rush to the Rockies! will feature several interesting lectures throughout the day including a complimentary lunch. I'm especially interested with a lecture on early papermaking (here's the tie-in). There's also one on myths of pack animals. The event is free, but be sure to register.

And Back Up Again

So funny the way things work. My poetry class merged with the creative writing class tonight for an open mic night. The poet laureate for the Pikes Peak region, Aaron Anstett, came out to do a reading. It was nice to hear from someone involved in the poetry community. I was feeling really down when I went in, but when I read my poem (a tanaga), he asked me to read it again. I was the only person asked to do that. I wonder if professional writers go through these same kind of ups and downs. I'm sure they do...

Lifted Up and Smacked Back Down



It's been a busy semester back at college. Now that I've added a part time job on top of it, it seems I don't have much spare time anymore. Ah well. I do have some good news, I'm going to be published in Almagre, the journal at my school. I felt really good about myself after I got the news, after all another in my writing group did not make the cut and he is a talented writer. Then, as my head was swelling with pride, I got the response from my poetry submission to a different journal (required final for my poetry class). Here's what I got:

Thank you so much for submitting to ________ _________ magazine! Unfortunately, your work isn't quite what we're looking for at the current time, but best of luck elsewhere.

So depressing...maybe it's because it is a small student run (one student) journal that I thought it would be easy to get it. Or maybe I felt invincible by my other publishing success. Or maybe it wasn't going to work for her upcoming issue. Or maybe they suck. Who knows, a whole myriad of thoughts goes through your mind at this point. I guess, unless you are a mega-superstar like Stephen King, the writing industry has a way for humbling you. For each time you are lifted up, you'll be smacked back down and rejected a number of times. The point is to keep pressing on. Remember, even Stephen King had a pile of rejection letters at one point.

Episode 2: Jabberwocky

Here's the latest episode fromThe Writerly Habit Audiobook Podcast.

Click this link to check it out:
Episode 2: Jabberwocky






Remember, the podcasts are available for download on iTunes.

What is Creative Nonfiction?

I'm about six weeks into my creative nonfiction class and I keep getting asked "what is creative nonfiction?" I kind of felt the same way before I started the class. I figured it was all magazine articles. Not so. Creative nonfiction covers a vast amount of work. it includes biographies, memoirs, personal essays, journalism, travel writing, food criticism... You name it. Most news is creative nonfiction, some of it is pure fiction. :P

Right now I'm having a lot of fun with personal essays. They are very popular with magazines too. If you are looking for help writing one, you should pick up a copy of Courage and Craft: Writing Your Life into Story by Barbara Abercrombie. She guides you through a lot of the different types of nonfiction and supplies a lot of great writing prompts.

For years, I was writing what I thought boiled down to glorified journal entries. I love writing about my life. I have a tub full of my writing that I thought was worthless. It wasn't until I started this class that I realized I've been writing creative nonfiction all along. If I ever get to the point where I start my MFA, I think it will be in creative nonfiction. Check out the book, it'll be worth your time.

Castle on ABC

Photo courtesy of ABC.COM


I just finished watching the first episode of Castle on ABC. As you know, I love shows (and movies) about writers. Or even people in the literary field i.e. editors. Normally I'm all over them, but this one was under the radar somehow. Castle stars Nathan Fillion (Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as murder mystery writer Richard Castle. Castle is questioned in relation to a string of murders based on scenes in his novels. Ok, that's pretty cliche but there's something about the roguish way Fillion plays this character that makes him compelling. He reacts more like a writer would, with a natural fascination and curiosity. Stana Katic plays Detective Kate Beckett, the lonely good-looking female cop with a romantic side. She spends most of the episode trying to reign in Castle. Together they are able to solve the case, which otherwise would've been pinned on an innocent mentally disturbed man.

The show truly is riddled with cliche's. Fillion is really what's going to sell this show. His character is charming and funny. Another interesting part was watching Castle play poker with his writing buddies James Patterson and Stephen J. Cannell. I was a little worried about how they were going to continue the premise of the show, but they managed to explain that away easily enough.

Be sure to catch the next episode of Castle Monday 10/9c on ABC.

Episode 1: Birth of a Podcast



My First Assignment

Well, I got my first assignment recording for Librivox. I will be doing two chapters of Cecilia; Or, Memoirs of an Heiress by Fanny Burney. It's written in very formal diction so I have to be careful not to slide into a fake British accent. I have that weird habit. My dad was in the Army for over 20 years so that's how we were taught to make friends. You assimilate, you imitate. Anything that makes people more comfortable with you. It isn't really a conscious thing. It just happens from traveling around a lot and having to make new friends all the time.

I will also be releasing an audiobook podcast here in the next few days. I'd like to have one on writing, full of interviews and such, but that is a little further down the road. All of the works featured will be in the public domain, to prevent copyright infringement. This is my contribution to improving the literacy of America. You can tell from my previous posts how passionate I am about that. It's amazing how little people read for enjoyment, especially fiction. If you have a suggestion for something you want read aloud, please post it in the comments section.

Babblebooks Podcast Warning!

Hey guys. Well I was looking to add to my audiobook collection on my iPod. Since I'm cheap, I try to get podcasts instead. I ran across Babblebooks and couldn't believe the titles they had available for free! Much to my dismay, the books are read by a computer. That's right, a monotone computer voice reading me Uncle Tom's Cabin. Oy vey! I was lucky though, I read a review on iTunes and was able to cancel my downloads. Crisis averted. There it is though, you are forewarned.

In order to satisfy your curiosity, below is a video sample of Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington.

If you are interested in free audiobooks, try Librivox. Librivox is a community project where volunteers agree to read a chapter of a book. These are available on their website or as podcasts on iTunes. I'm planning on ordering a microphone and then you'll be able to hear my lovely voice reading. I'll let you know when I'm ready to start posting. You can get volunteer information here. All of the books are in the public domain so you don't have to worry about copyright violation.

video

Good Reads Review


Recently a friend invited me to join GoodReads. At first I was wary but I decided to give it a try. GoodReads allows you to browse books and create your own virtual library. There are shelves for books you've read and books you want to read. You can add and read others reviews and comments. You can link with your friends and see what they are reading. It's a fun site, you should definitely check it out.

Writing on Demand

Now that I am back in college, I am realizing how much having a deadline helps me. For instance, I needed a piece for my Creative Nonfiction class today. I struggled with it all week but finally, last night, I churned out a draft. It ended up being really good too. Working under deadlines and pressure certainly helps me (I'm sure it could create a block for others). In my case, it would be a good idea for me to keep taking classes and workshops. This ensures a certain level of output. I wish I could be an every day writer but it just isn't working out for me. A career in journalism might be a good idea.

Something else I've learned this semester is that it is a lot easier for me to write away from home. I like coffee shops or going to eat at Chipotle by myself. It's quiet but I don't have things to distract me like housework or tv. You know how it is, you sit down to write and all the sudden you feel an overwhelming urge to clean the house.

I guess the writerly habit isn't about forcing yourself into a box. It's about finding what works best for you, your optimal conditions, and allowing yourself to work within them. I will be posting some information on creative nonfiction later this week. In the meantime, keep writing. You'll find yourself eventually.

How's Your Writing Going?

We are a few days into the new year and I'm wondering, how is everyone doing? So far I've got a sticker on each day for reaching my 1,000 words. I forgot how long 1,000 words really is. I tried stream of consciousness writing and it seems to go really slowly. I spend a lot of time going back and counting my words because I'm bored. I think I'm going to try using a writing prompt instead. I like the Writer's Book of Days. Of course I, being convinced that I was not a writer, sold my copy for the second time. I'll have to buy another one. *Grumble Grumble* Anyhow, good luck with your writing. Keep going, it'll be worth it.

Happy New Year


Happy New Year everyone! Well, if you can't tell by my word counter, I miserably failed NaNoWriMo. I got a little further than the counter indicates but not much. The reasons were twofold. First, I wasn't feeling inspired by my story. I had once again tried to write a mainstream fiction Christian novel. I set myself up for disaster on that. Second, at the end of the first week I got really bad food poisoning from McDonalds. It was really really awful. I was sick for two weeks and at the end, I just really didn't want to finish NaNo. I didn't think it was possible.

So today is the first day of the new year. I think it is a good time to get my writing back on track. I've printed a calendar I got here, and am making a folder for my 1,000 word a day free write. Each day I complete, I put a sticker on the calendar. I also write the name of the author I write a charming note too. I think I will also use it to track the books I read since I need to get back on track with that too. I also plan to blog once a week. I wish all of you luck in your writing endeavors this year. It's never too late to start writing again.