Humble-blog

It’s been about fifteen months since I started this blog, and for seven of those months, I posted here weekly.  My stated reason for creating this site was to “track my journey from lay-writer to published author,” but I also started the blog to advance that journey:  I accepted as gospel the ubiquitous claim that if you want to become a published author, you need a “media platform.”

Well a funny thing happened on the way to the media platform:  at some point in the past year, I became painfully aware of how little I know about writing.  As I read more stories and read them more deeply, took classes, and struggled to get the perfect ideas in my head onto the page, I realized that at this point, there is little I can tell anyone about writing.

Don’t get me wrong:  I’ve learned a tremendous amount in the past year.

I’ve learned about the literary journal submission world:  how to identify journals that might be good a fit for my work and then narrow in on the journals that are run with transparency and accountability; how to submit my work and wait (sort of) patiently to hear “no”; how to tell the difference between the variety of rejections I receive (uninterested, vaguely interested, actually encouraging); and, happily, how absolutely amazing it feels to finally hear “yes.”

I’ve learned more about writing classes and workshops:  that, for me, virtual classes are a poor substitute for in-person classes; that skilled, generous teachers (like skilled, generous people in general) are rare; and that gifted writers and amazing writing-buddies can be gleaned from either type of class and are absolutely worth hanging on to.

Finally – and this brings me to the issue of humility – in writing, submitting, receiving feedback, and taking classes and workshops, I’ve learned what a tremendous amount I have to learn about writing.  Plotting, character development, creating telling details, rhythm and pacing, use of time, point of view, narrative voice:  these are just a few of the many aspects of writing I’ve become aware of needing to master.  Or if not master – because does anyone ever really master them? – then improve.  And since that is my goal, I know that my time will be better spent working hard at writing than it will be spent building a media platform.

Truthfully, this state of humility feels like the first real step I’ve taken toward becoming a writer:  you can’t learn until you’re open to all that there is to learn.  I don’t know how long my retreat from the blogosphere will last, but I’m looking forward to pulling in and working hard on learning to write.  Over time, I might actually gain enough skill to have something to share with others.  Until then…

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NaNoWriMo: NoWay

I did it: I joined the NaNoWriMo party. I created an account, wrote a brief abstract for my book (tentatively titled Midway), signed up to receive emails from my local NaNo chapter, and even uploaded a book “cover” image.  Then, two short days into the party, before the band had even tuned up and the bar had started serving, I walked out. Continue reading

NaNoWriMo: Write first, ask questions later!

So the writer’s blockade I discussed several weeks ago didn’t ebb away. I did everything in my power to make it do so: I attended and participated in my online workshop, I sent some short stories out to literary journals, and I held an annual review with my writing-self to assess what I’ve done in the past year and to lay out firm goals for the next one. Continue reading

It’s quiz time!

I’m heading to DC this week for my job.  This is a good thing: I’ll spend three days talking with people who care about economic inequality in the United States.  (I’ll also get to make a presentation during which I will point out that the wealthiest 20% of Americans hold 87% of our national household wealth.*  But I digress.)  Because of the trip, I don’t have time to write a lengthy post this week, so I’m offering a quiz instead.  Play along – let’s have some fun! Continue reading

What would Coco do?

Coco Chanel allegedly offered the following fashion advice:  Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.  While I wouldn’t do much that Coco did – she was, according to credible sources, an anti-Semite, a Nazi-sympathizer, a morphine addict, and a homophobe – I think a modified version of her advice is invaluable for writers:  Before you finish revising, read closely and take one thing out – per sentence, most likely. Continue reading

Stranger danger

It happens in every workshop.  You enter a roomful of strangers and wonder:  who are these people?  How well do they write?  How well do I write in comparison with them?  Who will provide valuable feedback?  Who comes laden with fury and vitriol (or, probably more accurate, which of us will prove unable to contain our fury and vitriol)?  Who might become a lifelong friend?  With whom will I have the “click” – that amazing moment when you find a writing soul-mate whose work and outlook make you feel less alone? Continue reading

Psycho writer, qu’est-ce que c’est…

You know the feeling.  You wrote endlessly, edited, researched where to submit, formatted, and sent off your work.  For the first few weeks, all was bliss:  you had finished something and it was out in the world!  Hope and triumph mingled; you were finally able to talk about your writing, because you were a productive writer whose work was being considered. Continue reading

Performance anxiety

Fear and writing go hand-in-hand, at least for me and for most of the writers I know.  Fear of failure, exposure, inadequacy, and mediocrity:  these are among the many dreads a writer must face and push through if she is going to practice and improve her art.

A recent post of 25 quotes from famous authors is intended to inspire the rest of us to write more bravely.  There are some treasures on the list, but my favorite quote was not among them.   Continue reading

Do NOT write every day

Write every day.  It’s all we hear:  write a specific number of words or for a set amount of time each and every day.  Someone has even created an app to track your progress toward meeting your writing goals, complete with rewards if you succeed and punishments if you don’t.

I understand why people offer this advice:  it’s pretty clear that if you want to be a writer, well, you have to write.  I’m pretty fortunate that I don’t need an app to achieve this – I’m a fairly  disciplined person.  And yet there are days when I can get myself to my desk and I can write, but the words and ideas either aren’t coming or, worse, are clacking out to create wooden, hackneyed prose. Continue reading

Storied animals

My husband Murdoch* is a philosopher, which has many benefits, not least of which is the anachronistic sound of his profession – it’s like being married to an alchemist or a Master Falconer.  The other chief benefit, of course, is that I get to discuss Big Questions with him:  What does it mean to be good?  What does it mean to lead a good life?  What gives a human life value?  What does it mean to be human? Continue reading

Sotho, statues, and slang

Writers lament the isolation of the creative process, and it’s true that writing can be a lonely business.  We spend hours at our desks and in our heads trying to create believable, meaningful stories.  When the isolation of writing overwhelms me and I just cannot face hammering out what is, in all likelihood, another mediocre first draft, I give myself a break:  I research. Continue reading

For your ears only

You know that amazing feeling when a song resonates with meaning for you, when it has become inextricably bound with either the experience of life’s infinite possibilities or with some dark, crushing blow?

I have that.  I have it with certain disco music (middle school dances, late 1970s) and almost all U2 songs (high school, early 1980s) and some women’s music (feminist, anarchist college years, later-1980s).  I have it, but I don’t write about it.  That feeling is particular, not universal, and it cannot be conveyed.

Continue reading

WASP-Gothic: writing what I know

As I began composing my first query letters last year, I was forced to think long and hard about what I write, my genre, I mean.  I mulled and did research and eventually settled on the phrase “literary fiction with commercial appeal.”  By this I meant well-written books, but books that readers can understand:  no streams of consciousness, no insertions of poems in the shape of vulvas, no dancing goats. Continue reading

What a difference a day makes!

For those lovely few who are following these posts, I started this blog intending to write just once per week, and I’m sorry to contribute to your jammed in-boxes by doing quite a bit more than that.  However, I need to follow up on yesterday’s description of shopping Privations around to agents.  Today I received the following in my in-box:

“It is with kind thanks that I respond to your submission to [agency]. I am intrigued by these pages Continue reading

A blank page like no other…

This is it: my first blog, my first post ever. All writers dread the blank page, and I am no exception. In this case, however, the blank page is particularly terrifying, because the second I press “publish” this will be *out there* for people to read.

Since the point of this site is to document my journey from lay writer to hugely successful author [tone check: accompanied by the nervous laughter of someone with scant retirement savings], I’ll begin by explaining where my writing life currently stands. Continue reading