Sunday, October 25, 2009


Luckily, the world of writing is much more of a community than many fields of work. However, there is still an aspect of cut-throat competition and get rich quick schemes that lingers around the profession. The more I have been looking into publishing, the more I see that one must be discerning as a writer.

Of course, we all know we must laboriously consider each word we choose and each thought we construct. I mean discerning when it comes to gimmicks and motivation. There are a shocking number of empty promises floating about. It is far too easy to waste time chasing after “10 Days to Success” or “Fool-proof Writing” or whatever other shortcuts are being marketed to aspiring writers. I am a sucker for books on writing, blogs on writing, writing tips and “inspiration” in any form. Unfortunately, I never seem to buckle down to the actual writing. I fill myself up with positive emotions and a plethora of ideas and then have no time or energy to craft a piece from all of that. It is frustrating and discouraging.

Yet, there is some sense in which a gimmick can serve as genuine motivation. NaNoWriMo* seems to be an example of this. This competition is a month long novel writing challenge. It welcomes hype without making hallow promises. It spurs writer’s on with short term goals. And it seems to be fairly effective. I would love to produce a high volume of work and be able to cull through it later. Still, I am reluctant to engage in a venture that may only produce mediocre work at lightening speed.

What are your thoughts on motivation, competitions and writing gimmicks?


Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Research is the unsung hero of writing.  It is so crucial to get our facts right.  Writing is not merely an art of expressing feelings and thoughts but also of knowing the content of what we are writing about.  Many people can pontificate on a given subject without any substantive knowledge of it.  There is a danger in that. I have heard it said that greatness lies in the details and I have to agree.

And yet, I rarely hear writers expostulate on the ins and outs of writerly research. How long do they spend doing background work?  How do they check themselves for accuracy?  Or is that the job of the editor?   Where do they look for their information?  How much of it is from primary sources?

I wonder how much you really need to know about a topic to get the details just right.  I have too often ignored the details, the precise words and facts that could give my writing that ring of truth.  These are two of my goals as I move forward, precision and accuracy.  

Sunday, October 11, 2009


I was digging through the archives  of Rachelle Gardner’s Rants and Ramblings 
when  I found an incredibly helpful post,

“Let's start with the obvious. Why are you writing two or three books at once? Don't you find your focus is hampered? Are you sure that writing more than one book at a time is the way to do your best work? Personally, I think multi-tasking is over-rated and I believe people do their best writing when their focus isn't divided. This is especially true when you're unpublished and still learning the craft of writing for publication.
I understand many people are still trying to find their place as a writer, and much of the writing at this point is experimental. Am I a historical romance writer or am I better at contemporary suspense? What do I enjoy most? Is my heart more in fiction or non-fiction? These are valid questions and it takes some experimentation to find out the answers. The part that makes me worry is when writers assume all their "experiments" are worthy of publication. You're probably better in one genre than another...
So let's just get this out in the open: How many of you are unpublished and working on multiple projects simultaneously, with an eye toward publication for all of them? Are they the same genre or different? Why are you doing this? Inquiring minds want to know.”

Most of the comments to this post revealed that people generally focus on one project at a time but still collect other ideas to develop later. 

This realization was the kick in the pants I needed to get focused. I have 3 or 4 projects threading their way through the pages of my notebook.   However, I have resolved to pick one and work hard on it until it is finished, revised, edited and submitted.  I can then focus my attention on the next project.  I am fairly certain that this is the only way I can actually finish a project.

This is not to say that I will not be collecting ideas, scrawling half finished poems or pontificating on prompts I come across.  I will most certainly continue to prime all my creative pumps, but I want to finish something.  My plan is to dedicate 2-3 months to do just that.  

The first project to come under the force of my focused attention is a screenplay I began this summer but recently abandoned.   It is an epic story based on the life and death of an ancient hero.   I won’t go into details now but we will see how it goes.  

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"Geography is destiny"

This quotation was given to me by one of my favorite writing teachers.  I have thought about it a great deal and continue to wrestle with it.  

Perhaps geography is destiny.  I mean, it makes sense. Geography touches every sense.  It influences our food, music, scenery, climate, and physicality.   However, I am reluctant to embrace the idea wholesale because the cliche that we make our own destiny is ingrained so  deeply within me.

I grew up in New England (emphasis on England.)  My grandmother immigrated from the UK when she was four years old.  A short time later, her father drowned, leaving her, her brothers and her mother with the farm here in the States.  Clinging to her traditional British maxims, she managed to keep a stiff upper lip and weave her culture deep into the fabric of our family.

I grew up in a dying factory town.  We lived on a lake, and that, I have no doubt, formed my identity in ways I can never convey.  The pink sunsets over the soft peak of ripples helped me understand my mom’s quiet strength.  I have drawn inspiration from the spectrum of blues ranging from the depths of the lake to the velvet surface of  the sky.

We were in the town because my mother rebelled against her parents, married my father and was threatened with disinheritance.  Yet, even this schism did not divide her from her sense of British propriety and pride .  We were broke but we were never poor. And when I turned 12 years old we came into a great deal of money. I was therefore free to roam from this small rural town.  

My parents wanted me to go to college and I certainly had the desire.  I made up for my lack of looks with my abundance of brains.  The only instructions my parents gave me was that I could go anywhere but California.  

I had no thoughts of going to California, there was every reason not to go- earthquakes, fires, landslides.  No, my mind was full of my dad’s childhood in South Florida and my grandfather’s riverfront house in Virginia.  Princeton, William and Mary, James Madison were on my mind and in that order. 

I had no idea I was destined for California- but the allure of the opposite ocean drew me away from all of my plans.  

I went because I could breath out there.  I could walk on the beach for hours and no one would ask me where I had been.  I could climb up into the mountains and feel the dangerous breath of the sun.  

I went because I wanted to be alone. I wanted to experience a personal gold rush, pursuing my dreams of education and vocation, carving out a life for myself in the face of the Santa Ynez Mountains. 

Instead I fell in love and discovered grace.

In my case, I’d say that even geography could not keep me from my destiny.  I was born 3,000 miles away from the man I came to love more than my own life.  I lived my life, marred by suffering and sin,  an infinite distance from my saving grace but I believe that  my story certainly was mapped out before I was born.  The significance of each longitudinal point and every latitudinal mark was designed before time.  I can only hope to sort out some of the journey as I write.

So I put it to you, “Geography is destiny.”  
Do you agree?

Sunday, October 4, 2009


I don’t wear much makeup.  I don’t really believe in it. I am afraid of trying too hard to be beautiful. But I have two shades of eyeshadow from my wedding that I absolutely love.  I look forward to putting them on because some genius marketing guru decided to put quotations on the inside of the case to allure literary nerds such as myself.

The lighter of the two reads as follows:
“let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.” -jane austen

I tend to be someone whose pen was full my own depression.  I  have thought that our curse in life was that, as humans, we could only ever catch a second or two of true beauty.  We are granted moments that taste so sweet on the tongue just before we are plunged back into despair. At times, I believe that those moments when everything is lined up are exactly when you can expect everything to collapse.  The beauty destroyed as soon as you notice it.  

For me the darker things tend to muck up the bright spots.  But, taking my cue from Jane Austen, I determined that this should no longer be so.  This determination enabled me to realize that my week has been full of bright spots. 

Yesterday, I came home from my Saturday morning tutoring  and launched into a narrative of events for my husband when he stopped me.

“You have comments,” he said.
My jaw dropped, “What?”
“You have comments AND a follower.”

I ran to the computer, laughing with joy.   I read and reread your insightful and encouraging comments. It took conscious effort not to be afraid that this was only a fluke, that soon I’d find angry insults categorizing my faults.  Instead, I sat in awe of such a small but beautiful moment in my writing journey.       

Today, I found another luminous example combatting my self-doubt,  I rediscovered my writing notebook .  I’ve had this one for about a year.  It is still not completely filled and usually that is all I notice, my failure.  Today, however, I sat down and read my notebook.  I really read what I had written.  And to my shock, it was beautiful.  Not perfect, but enough to inspire me.  And I got an idea of what to do next, I want to organize my multitudinous entries on my life and polish some of the poems I found.  It was like discovering gold, inside of myself.  

My advice for the week ahead? 
 “let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.” -jane austen
and read old journals- it will blow your mind.

Friday, October 2, 2009


Perhaps the most telling sign of my immaturity as a writer is my lack of direction.   As I exclaimed so dramatically in my last post, “I don’t even have a genre.” 

In school, my teachers always made me stretch my writer’s muscles and experiment with a multitude of forms.  Now, I feel the overwhelming need become more focused and purposeful.  

I have undoubtedly begun to write more fluently under the inscrutable eye of the world wide web. Still, genre eludes me.  And I have the nagging sense that until that point becomes clear I am stuck in a quagmire.  

This sort of decision making has always been a trial to me.  When I was applying to graduate school, I asked one administrator if I had a better chance to get in if I studied to be an elementary school teacher rather than a secondary one.  She scoffed at the thought.

“Well, personally,”  she condescended, “I think you can only be one or the other.  If you’re meant to be a secondary teacher you’ll be no good in elementary.”

I disagree.  (And fortunately middle school offers me the both/and solution I was looking for.)  But is this theory true in writing?   Can you dip into many wells or are you meant to be loyal to only one genre?  How do you know what you are meant to write?

Pondering these questions I have collected the following reflections on various genres:
~Poetry: The most manageable and satisfying to craft but the hardest to truly master.  I love it and fear it.

~The Novel: An impossible dream.  Beautiful and subtle, compelling and rich, yet fearsome to undertake, let alone finish.

~Nonfiction: Tempting because it is by nature helpful to readers and I want to create something helpful.  Lamentably, it can be dry and more importantly I am not really an expert on anything. 

~Memoir: The crowning achievement of any writer’s life.   At the moment, however, perhaps a bit too presumptuous.  

~Short Story: A good compromise between the poem and the novel.  Yet, it bears the difficulties of both.  It is distilled so that every word must be gold and yet it must have an ending that wraps up all the loose ends .  I fear I am not that succinct.  

There are certainly other genres to explore but those are the ones I am rummaging through at the moment.   Which ones have you explored?