The Writerly Habit

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

Moved

This blog has moved to http://www.brandiballard.com.

Hooray for Spring Break!


Spring Break is finally here. That means only six weeks left of this insane course load. It's my fault, I signed up for four English classes. I'm taking a couple of classes this summer but they are short and involve either trips around the Southwest or creative writing. Huzzah.

I'm also being published in riverrun, the UCCS arts journal, and Poetry While You Wait (PWYW). PWYW is a project of the Pikes Peak Poet Laureate. The collection of poems are printed in a journal, and on plaques, and are placed anywhere in town where people wait. This, of course, is also in Colorado Springs.

In conjunction with PWYW, our local National Public Radio station KRCC is going to be broadcasting a poem a day from the book. I've already been down to record. There will also be a public reading of the book in early April. I'll keep you posted on the dates, just in case you're in Colorado Springs

So exciting news, I thought this would definitely light a fire under my ass to write more. Nope. Not a word. I haven't worked on anything but homework. I guess that goes back to what I talked about before: going for internal validation and not external. External validation is great, for a minute. Then reality sets back in and all your worries are back. So how do you build internal validation? I'm not sure that I can answer that clearly. I am confident in my work and know it is publishable, yet that doesn't translate into producing work.

I was talking about this with my therapist the other day and she asked me what writing would look like for me if it were a job. I said that I wanted to write for four hours or so a day, to have a dedicated time and a set routine. I then said that I didn't know why I couldn't do that now (for a lesser amount of time of course). She said "because it's not your job yet." Hmmm...that's interesting. It is true, if I were getting paid and writing was my main focus, then I would be more motivated to write. It seems to me though, you have to slog your way through writing while it isn't your job, in order to get to a place where it is. Random House isn't going to show up at my door with a book deal if I haven't published squat. Although I did have a weird dream involving William Shatner last night. Not the Captain Kirk Shatner, more like the Boston Legal Shatner. Anyway...you have to be willing to do the work before it's your job. So what is stopping me/us?

I don't know, the mind is a tricky thing. One problem I have is not giving myself enough credit for the work I am doing. I am carrying a fifteen credit hour semester and still finding time to send out a couple of submissions. That should be great on its own. If you are like me, you have this drive to keep pushing yourself and no matter what, it isn't good enough. You aren't good enough. That's probably a good time to seek professional counseling as I've been doing. It's only been a few weeks, but I am already seeing some progress. It's hard to recognize irrational thought processes. If any of this fits you, maybe read Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Livesand go from there. I know I've recommended it before but there is a phenomenal chapter on writing the wounded psyche.



Margaret Randall


I was fortunate enough to attend a poetry reading at UCCS last night in honor of International Women's Day. The presenting poet was Margaret Randall. Prior to the event, I had never heard of her. Her poetry is very powerful, full of myth and strong images of the desert. She tackles issues like immigration, male right, cultural dominance and rape. I'm not going to go on, you can pick up one of her books if you'd like to read her for yourself. She also has tour information on her website.

Ideas come at the most inopportune time...

So I'm sitting in British Literature today and I'm bored. Not that I dislike the literature, I just have issues with the teaching method. I just don't get a lot out of the class. Anyway, I've been trying to come up with ideas for a fantasy story. I love the genre but it seems any time I try to write I can't come up with anything that seems original. I've been so stuck.

In class, as my teacher is going on about some minutia, I have an idea. A flash, an image. Yes! It took me right to my opening scene and my main character. The mind is a funny thing. I've been stumped for an idea for two weeks and then, when I am busy, it comes.

That being said, I still have no idea where the story is going. I might just write the opening and see if the character "speaks to me." I've heard other writers say that. I have never experienced it though. Ah well. Back to work.

The Importance of Letting (Manuscripts) Go

This came up in a discussion with a friend of mine. She is unwilling to send her work out for publication. She is protective of it as she feels it is her best work. I understand this view as I used to be the same way. Then I realized something, as your writing improves your older work looks like shit. It's true. You think it's brilliant when you write it so you don't send it out. You either a) want to keep it for yourself thinking it is too special to let go or b) don't want to send it someplace for publication when you could have had it published somewhere bigger/better/whatever. So you keep it. Six months roll by and you read it again. Shock sets in as you realize it isn't as good as you thought. A year later, it is relegated to the island of misfit manuscripts.

I suggest, upon finishing a work you feel is brilliant that you let it go. Yep, send it out for publication. You'll save yourself some regret and might even get published in the process. At very least, you'll get some experience submitting work.

Book Review: When You are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

Today's book review was brought you by writer E.M. Samuelson and the letter Q:

There’s always one person in a crowd who would willing admit that they once groped a man in a club and later realized it wasn’t their date; that person is David Sedaris. In When You Are Engulfed in Flames, he mentions things like artificial bottoms, parasites, skeletons, spiders, cigarettes and art, managing to make such topics humorous and engrossing. Sedaris shows insight into the neuroses we’re all prone to using a wry sense of humor and a frankness that is almost uncomfortable at times.

I bought this book because it was recommended by a friend and I had an abundance of Border’s Bucks. I would buy another because David Sedaris writes an interesting, funny book.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames

Market Analysis

So I've recently come across Paperback Writer, a blog by prolific author Sheila Kelly (check the site for a list of books and pseudonyms). In my quest to read the blog from beginning to end, I've run across a post in which Kelly talks about how she reads for market analysis. It struck me as something very obvious...that I never thought about doing before.

I think this would be a good monthly activity. Get the top four or five books from the bestseller list in your genre and analyze them. I'm not saying pick them apart. I've read writing books that tell you to take a novel and deconstruct it. The advice is to summarize the events of each chapter so you can see the plot arc. I did that with The Lark and the Wren (Bardic Voices, Book 1) by Mercedes Lackey and it totally ruined the book for me. The magic of the story was gone.

As writers, we pick up a lot of this information just by reading. And where do you get the best instruction? By reading what sells. I think this will be my experiment next month, given I can squeeze it in between my Brit Lit II and IV reading.

The Lark and the Wren (Bardic Voices, Book 1)

Waiting is Depressing

I have this list on my desk of journals I want to submit to. This is something I started with the new year. They are in order of due date and I cross them off as I get them done. To be honest, I don't really even think about them until a week or so before they are due. This helps me not feel overwhelmed.

At the same time, it is annoying to have to wait so long for responses. I have one that I sent off in August of last year. At the moment, I have four submissions floating around. I know that doesn't sound like a lot, but for me it is. It's hard to keep writing when you have no idea how the work you are doing is being received. Or if it even was received.

I guess this goes back to the idea of inward versus outward approval. A teacher of mine once said that if you strive for outward approval, you'll suffer a lot more. You need to develop a thick skin. Be prepared for rejection. Be ok with letting your work go (i.e. submitting it). If you continually strive for outward approval, you'll always be dependent on someone else's opinion of your work. I need to remember that.

On a side note, I am feeling particularly lazy this morning. I have three submissions to prepare for the month (four if I push it) and homework to do. Instead I am thinking about playing some World of Warcraft until my husband gets up. What's that about? I'd love it if I woke up in the morning and couldn't wait to write. Does that actually happen or is it just in the movies?

Are you supporting your fellow authors?

The demise of literary journals has been at the forefront of the media for a couple of years now. As a writer, this represents the loss of possible markets for my work. Several journals have closed, others have turned to online only. It seems a lamentable loss but then I ask myself, what am I doing to prevent this?

In all honesty, I do not subscribe to any literary journals. Gasp! I know, it sounds terrible but I know there are many other writers like me. We complain about the loss of print markets but do nothing to stop it. I used to subscribe to One Story but canceled when it came time to renew. In my defense, I am an unemployed college student. Many of us are affected by the economic downturn. At the same time, I have the money to go get a cappuccino or amble down to Village Inn on pie rush Wednesdays. I just need to make a point to subscribe and support my fellow writers.

I am often of the same mind about used books. Often, I will go to a bookstore and browse titles, then go on Amazon to buy used copies. Buying used is economical, I agree, but doesn't count towards that author's sales or make them any money. I wonder how I would feel if it was my book? I'd rather people buy new....although I would be happy just to have them reading my work.

I'm not saying we should start spending a ton of money (most of us don't even have) on books and literary journals. I'm just saying that we should be aware of it and consider buying new or subscribing when we can.

Two Years and One Hundred Posts Later

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Followers of the Writerly Habit know that I have struggled with writing for many years. I often say that I have low ass-to-chair ratio. Sounds silly, but it's true. I don't normally have trouble writing, my problem is sitting down to get started. Even now, after two years of whining, I still find myself surfing the web and obsessively checking Facebook and my email. I don't understand why I choose such activities over writing but I do. Maybe it is because of the emotional nature of my work. I mostly write non-fiction and it is very personal. Maybe using these websites is how I brain-drain. It might be good for me to take up fiction too and see if that helps.

I do have to say that I write a good deal more than I did in the past. At present time, I have three works out for publication and a stack of pieces waiting to be sent. I have also recognized my need for deadlines in order to complete work. For me, it takes the form of creative writing classes or workshop groups where I am expect to produce work.

I have also resigned myself to my process. Sometimes I need to surf the web or crochet while I'm working out ideas. I need a certain level of distraction. The push is no longer on daily writing, but regularly producing work. It is a slight shift but an effective one.

Amazon and Macmillan Duke it Out

Shortly after agreeing to offer e-books to Apple for the iPad, Macmillan's books have been pulled from Amazon. Ok ok, that's not why they pulled the books but you have to wonder if there weren't some hurt feelings there. According to the Times, they were pulled because Macmillan wants Amazon to charge more than the $9.99 set price for e-books. Until the dispute is resolved, all Macmillan titles will be unavailable (except through third party sellers).

I can see both sides of the argument here, I really can. Amazon wants to set low e-book prices to encourage buyers to drop $259 on a Kindle Wireless Reading Device (6" Display, Global Wireless, Latest Generation). So the publishers are getting shafted and Amazon gets to sell an expensive piece of equipment. I'm already a little anti-Kindle because of their proprietary DRM formatting and the big brother aspect (wherein they can go in and take away your books without your consent ala the 1984 incident). So why shouldn't Macmillan get a bigger slice of the profits if they are helping sell this device?

On the other hand, as a reader, I wouldn't pay more than $9.99 for an e-book anyhow. I know there are costs involved but there is no printing, warehousing, distributing etc. I'm not going to pay $15 when I can wait for a trade paperback at about the same price. What worries me is that Apple is going to have a different pricing model wherein the publisher sets the price. So, if you get an iPad, you may very well pay more for your e-books. What a bunch of crap. I thought e-books were supposed to revolutionize the market and make books more affordable. Seems to me that corporations are still just as greedy as ever and will charge whatever they like despite lower costs. Ridiculous.

1984 (Signet Classics)

Author J.D. Salinger dies at 91

Yesterday J.D. Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye, died of natural causes. I won't go into too much detail as I feel the article in the Times covered it nicely. I'd rather take this time to comment on his work. Although I haven't read Nine Stories, I have read The Catcher in the Rye. I'll admit, the book is a bit dated but it has entered a sort of folk-lorish infamy as the book serial killers, bombers and murderers all seem to carry. I know John Hinckley Jr. and Mark David Chapman had it. I've heard the Boston Strangler and Timothy McVeigh did also. I don't know if that's true or not.

I did find the book a rather difficult read. Possibly because of the language used by the main character, Holden Caulfield. He mostly went on tirades about "phonies" and how you couldn't trust adults. The writing style was kind of lax, much like Stephen King (who is an excellent storyteller). Maybe it is just my generation, or the fact that I am a woman and this was a boy's coming of age story, but I just didn't get. The story didn't seem to have a point. If any of you out there have read it, please let me know what you think.

I do have to say that I read it because of its connection to criminals. It didn't make me want to shoot anyone or blow anything up, so much for that theory.

Although the book was never made into a movie, it did make its way into 1997's Conspiracy Theory. Supposedly, Salinger didn't want it made into a film. I wonder, in the event of his death, if his estate will turn it into a screenplay. I hope not. Plus I don't think it would really work, too much time has passed.

The Catcher in the RyeNine StoriesConspiracy Theory

In Love with the iPad (100th Post!!)


The iPad tablet was unveiled by Apple this week. At first, I was imagining how cool it would be to finally have an e-book reader that could also access apps like the iPhone. I've never used an e-book reader and usually prefer hardcover, but as a student the idea of not lugging around a bag full of books that I had to overpay for is tantalizing. In my joy over not breaking my back, I totally overlooked the implications for authors. Tom Evans, writing for Publishing Talk, makes a great case for buying the iPad over the Kindle. After all, you get to access pages (that's Word for Macs for you PCs). The tablet also features a large size touch keyboard, meaning that you could use it to write. You can't beat the 10 hour battery life or the fact that you can plug it into a keyboard and continue writing while it charges (plus I like to keep all of my files in the same place). It's sleek, stylish, lightweight and ultra-portable. Unlike the Neo by Alphasmart which looks like a toilet seat. Mind you, the $499 price tag is a little limiting for me but I truly expected it to debut in the $900 range.

Watch the keynote here.

In other news, happy 100th post! It's been an interesting couple of years and I've made a lot of progress as a writer. I'll be blogging about that in the next few days. Stay tuned.

Why does Taylor Antrim hate Memoir?

In an article for The Daily Beast, Taylor Antrim trashes memoir. He states "Too often, memoir seems to me an excuse to be fragmentary, incomplete, narratively non-rigorous." This seems like an unfair attack to me. He argues that some memoirs, particularly Happy and The Ticking is the Bomb, would be better off written as novels.

Pardon me, but I think the reason a memoir should be written as a memoir is that it is a true account. Mind you, creative non-fiction provides some wiggle room. Yes, you may not remember the exact conversation you had with your psychotherapist in 1963 but if you get the gist of it, who gives a crap? We read memoir because we are interested in other people's lives. We want to identify instead of merely escaping (although good authors can excel in both whether it be CNF or fiction). If memoir was a failed medium that cowers in front of fiction, why is it so damn popular? I think if memoir was just an excuse for lazy writing, it would've been done away with long ago.

Here's a short reply from The Rumpus that is also worth a read. What do you think though, is Antrim right or is this a publicity stunt? Maybe this is a jab back at an industry that criticised him harshly. The reviews of his book The Headmaster Ritual on Amazon.com are positive but also point out some flaws. The New Yorker states that "he does not entirely succeed in illuminating the resonance of all this for his characters’ interior lives." Wait, I'm confused, in his diatribe on memoir he accused memoirists of not developing characters enough. Reed Business Information states "the climax is marred by a chain of events that defies reason." Hmm...

Happy: A MemoirThe Ticking Is the Bomb: A MemoirThe Headmaster Ritual

Increase Your Literary Vocabulary

Have you ever run across a poem or other work that addresses an inanimate object? We see this a lot with more flowery poets. Oh moon! Oh stars! Oh freedom! This is addressing a personified thing rhetorically which is also known as an apostrophe. An apostrophe also refers to addressing a person who isn't there. So now when you come across someone reading a poem such as the below sonnet by Alfred Lord Tennyson, you can sound exceedingly brilliant by pointing out the apostrophe. Huzzah!

Oh, Beauty, passing beauty!

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Oh, Beauty, passing beauty! sweetest Sweet! How canst thou let me waste my youth in sighs? I only ask to sit beside thy feet. Thou knowest I dare not look into thine eyes, Might I but kiss thy hand! I dare not fold My arms about thee--scarcely dare to speak. And nothing seems to me so wild and bold, As with one kiss to touch thy blessed cheek. Methinks if I should kiss thee, no control Within the thrilling brain could keep afloat The subtle spirit. Even while I spoke, The bare word KISS hath made my inner soul To tremble like a lutestring, ere the note Hath melted in the silence that it broke.

The Suppressed Poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson (Dodo Press)

Ah Ubik, How You Taunt Me

I just finished reading an article about Philip K. Dick and his years in Orange County. If you don't know who Philip K. Dick is, well you've been living under a rock. He was a prolific sci-fi writer, responsible for A Scanner Darkly, Blade Runner (Four-Disc Collector's Edition) and Minority Report (Widescreen Two-Disc Special Edition). Plus many other works. I personally like The Man in the High Castle. My ultimate favorite is Ubik.

I would explain the plot, but it is available on Wikipedia and frankly I'm tired. What I am more interested in is Ubik the film. In 2008, it was announced that Celluloid Dreams would produce Ubik. We're still waiting. There is a mention of it in the article by the L.A. Times but no website listed. A search of IMDB turned up nothing nor did YouTube or Google. What the hell is going on here? The Times lists the film as debuting this year but I can't find any information. Has anyone heard anything?

In an amusing side note, some Philip K. Dick fans actually call themselves Dickheads. That is too funny. If you haven't read any of his work, you definitely should. I'm not even a sci-fi reader and I like his work.

Ubik

Publishers Torn on Free E-Book Giveways

Kindle Wireless Reading Device (6" Display, Global Wireless, Latest Generation)

In an article in the New York Times, a publishing battle has been brought to the forefront. Several publishers are offering free e-books as promotional tools to entice Kindle users to buy other titles by the same author. Generally these are older titles used to promote newer ones.

Some publishers are concerned with the $9.99 fixed price Amazon is setting for Kindle books. They feel that this alone will cause users not to want to pay $24.95 for a hardcover. Giving it away for free is even worse. I tend to lean to the other side. If I read a free book by an author I don't know, I am more likely to buy other titles if I like it. $24.95 is a huge gamble on a new author (especially given our current economic climate). A free e-book is low risk. Besides, if you can afford a Kindle, you can probably afford to buy additional titles if you like what you see.

To me, this is reminiscent of the pre-internet video game era. You'd buy a game for $50 with no idea if it was good or not. Turns out, the game is terrible and you can't get a refund so it just sits on your shelf gathering dust. Or you use it as a coaster, same diff. Books are even more difficult to gauge. You can't just get on YouTube and watch a plot walkthrough. Ok, ok, that's enough with the video game analogy but you get my point.

I want to know what you think. Is this a good marketing tool or a shameful act that will cause the print market to collapse?

A Clever Fix to an Umm.... Uncomfortable Title

Have you ever been embarrassed to read a book in public because of the title and/or cover art? As someone who has dabbled in erotica, I find this a common problem. Kevin Sampsell, author of A Common Pornography: A Memoir (P.S.), has provided a simple solution to reading his book in public.



Hilarious! Although I might have gone with "A Common Portcullis." It has a nice old world flair. I have a feeling this will help increase his sales just through sure humor value alone. Hmm...I wonder if this will work with some of my other books.

A Common Pornography: A Memoir (P.S.)

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle Hits the Stage

I wish I was in New York City because Haruki Murakami's book The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel has been turned into a stage production. The stills in the gallery look amazing, they have that sort of ethereal/metaphysical quality that is seen in Murakami's work. There's also a trailer. It is running until January 30th at the Ohio Theater. Hopefully it does well and travels. I'm skeptical that it will land in Colorado though.

It would be interesting to see some of his other works, like Norwegian Wood or Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World: A Novel (Vintage International) (my personal favorite) hit the stage. If you aren't familiar with Murakami's work, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel is a great place to start.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A NovelNorwegian WoodHard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World: A Novel (Vintage International)