Tag Archives: Writing

Writing in a Hurry

Summer invited me over for paella and sangria tonight and I went gladly. A few days ago she sent me a link for a couple of requests for submissions that she thought would interest me. She does so periodically. Once, a year or so ago, I actually sent off a piece and it was accepted and published. Remembering that, I decided to try it again. In the space between reading student papers and waiting for my daughter to wake up, I wrote a query and emailed it off. In the bio, I wrote that I was an “occasional writer,” and explained myself away by saying that I am the single mother of a teenage daughter. Single mothers will understand — single fathers too.

But is that really my excuse? I always have an excuse for not writing. I’m a single mother. I’m working full-time. I have other things going on. Right now it’s summer. I should have time to write. I teach two classes instead of three, four days a week instead of five. Why is it hard to drum up 500 words for my blog during a time that should be more expansive? Today I plunged back into my retrospective, was interrupted three times, and realized that if I wanted to publish it, I needed to hit publish. So I did.

Tonight, slightly buzzed on sangria after a brisk walk home from Summer’s house in perfect night-time weather (finally the evenings have cooled down after last night’s dramatic thunderstorm), I rearead today’s blog entry. Typos, awkward sentences, moments when I could have said what I wanted to say more subtly, or more clearly. I berated myself, and then gave up. I recognize the cycle. I get good about writing regularly, get on a roll, and then get pulled aside. Then I beat myself up, and try again, and fail again.

Summer has nine months off — a time of bliss, I think. She has the summer, right now, and then a quarter’s sabbatical, and then a quarter of unpaid leave subsidized by a large artist’s award she won last year. She has been going to writer’s retreat after writer’s retreat, and last week, she received two acceptance notices for pieces she has written.

“Do I dare tell you?” she speculated, when she was over for an afternoon with her writing. She had a “piece-within-a-piece” she was contemplating for publication. I’d offered to help her read it and make suggestions about cutting. She’d taken me up on the offer.

“Tell me,” I said.

“OK.” She thrust her glass at me. “Promise you won’t be mad?”

“Why would I be?” I pour her wine. I know what she’s going to tell me, that she’s been accepted again.

“Will you be happy for me? Or jealous?” she asks.

“You know I don’t get jealous.”

She tsks and shakes her heads and sips her wine. “OK,” she says and she tells me.

I’m happy for her. I tell her congratulations. I don’t tell her that I appreciate the way she sends me links of places she thinks might like my writing. I know she knows I appreciate her thinking of me, and that she doesn’t like flattery/praise. It does make me happy to know that even though I write only rarely, in bursts here on this blog, and almost never in any other capacity, that she believes in me somehow, enought to send me a link here and a link there, to say, on occasion, “You really just need to send your writing out over and over again. Just get into the routine. Just do it.”

So today I wrote a query letter, and cut-and-pasted an old entry to it, and sent it out. If Summer says, “Do it,” I might as well try.

And I think of how lucky I am. I have several friends who encourage me. My blog friends, and two real-life friends, R.C. and Summer. If I don’t send writing out, it’s my fault. Mostly I don’t have time to write, let alone revise and edit and polish. Today’s ham-fisted attempt at an unfinished retrospective, published in the split-second before Zeke came downstairs in a grumpy mood — “Mooooooommmmm,” she wailed from upstairs, and I finished my sentence and hit publish before she rounded the corner because I knew I was in for a long conversation — is an example of why I rarely fully finish anything I write.

“In a couple of years,” I tell Summer, “she’ll be in college, and I’ll have a lot more time. In the meantime, I don’t mind being available. Those years go fast.”

Summer, childless, nods. She never protests or condemns. She has her own challenges when it comes to writing. And I have mine. Zeke, 15, sensitive and kind and sweet. Happy in general, but tormented at times by the frustrations of being a teenager in a world of doubt and difficulty. We argue sometimes, but mostly we just live in a kind of gentle, easy orbit. Her friends come in and out, in and out, and hang out and leave and come back, and I’d rather have them here than elsewhere, so my computer is commandered for MySpace sessions, and I cook baked potatoes and pasta, and I don’t write.

Still, Summer’s links, today’s writing sessions, the cool night air blowing throw the house after last night’s dramatic thunderstorm — all these feel like nods from the fates. I’ll try to write, when I can, and if I can’t find the time, I’ll try to just accept it.

Writing freely, giving hope

I didn’t blog much for a while, but more recently I’ve been back into it. I like the sense of writing to an audience, and now that I’ve shaken off some people that I just wasn’t comfortable sharing with, I feel more relaxed about it again. Still, I admire Diana and Loren who write under their real names. I actually started a work-blog about being a writing teacher under my real name, and wrote about five entries, but found myself drawn to the more personal writing I could do here without feeling exposed.

The worry about being exposed started about a year ago, when a friend told a friend about my blog. Then the second friend told a whole bunch of friends and colleagues of mine, and suddenly everything I wrote was under scrutiny. And then I couldn’t write any more. I just froze every time I sat down at the keyboard. I was afraid I’d misspell something, or use a period wrong, and be judged, or that my more personal entries would become the stuff of local gossip. I knew my hard-core atheist reader would be scoffing at my more mystical entries, that my writing friend would be disgusted that I was wasting my time blogging, that my nosy colleague from work would probably tell my ex-husband, who’s a friend of hers, about the blog. And I just didn’t want any of it. Every time I sat down to write, I heard their voices in my mind criticizing, scoffing, laughing. Even though I knew what they thought really didn’t matter, I just couldn’t write freely.

I spent much time deliberating whether or not I wanted to continue blogging. Many times I was a mere second away from writing my farewell post. In the end, I decided to start over, here on WordPress, although initially my decision to move was driven because Blog-City was being so slow and glitchy. I had opened a Members-Only site on BC which wouldn’t work, thus stymieing my efforts to write without being scrutinized. I also didn’t like all the orange in the administration area. So I tried out WordPress, liked it, and then realized that I might be able to move without my colleagues following me.

For a while, I checked the stats religiously, making sure that my nemesis readers hadn’t made the jump. Then I stopped checking at all, because I wanted to write without worrying about readers. And then more recently I started checking again, just out of interest, and I was surprised to discover a few days ago that a few people from other parts of the world, Australia, England, different parts of the U.S., had been checking back on BC periodically. There they were, a string of people who dropped in over and over again to see if I was posting. I don’t think any of them ever commented while I was writing on BC, but clearly they must have been reading–and still are. So I took a chance. I put a little notice on my BC site telling those persistent visitors that I’m here on WordPress. In three weeks, my BC membership expires (BC charges a fee, unlike WordPress), and before that date comes I will delete the blog altogether.

It’s been interesting, though, looking at stats. Apparently a lot of dogs get Rymadil poisoning. The most-read pages on my WordPress site are those describing Sadie’s illness and recovery. I hope those readers searching for information will realize their beloved pets can survive even huge doses of Rymadil with the right care.

On Blog-City, many readers came to my site by way of searches like “How to kill yourself,” which made me quite uncomfortable! On WordPress, they seek information on Johnny Got his Gun and the Grapes of Wrath, on the Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville, and on Kuan Yin, on breast cancer and breast pain, on akathisia and tardive dyskinesia and twitches in dogs. I find it fun to see what brings people to the site, and to wonder if they’ll return after their initial encounter.

Whether they do or not, I hope they find what they see to be helpful.

Gifts and Resolutions

The last few days have bought me gifts that lift me a little, that strengthen me. I am filled always with deep-seated ambiguities: A desire to write battles with the conviction that I am — if not a terrible writer — at least little better than average. My journey into blogworld intensifies the latter conviction. So much beautiful writing, so many electronic pages of print in which the words disappear to be replaced by place and person, by delight and despair, by images that curl up in the corners of my mind like sleeping cats and awaken hours later, calling me back to admire them. And then I think, Dale wrote this, Paula did, Stella, Old Girl of the North Country, Loren, Patry, my very first blog-friend, Diana and many others, too numerous to name. They share their writing and photography and art with the world, and they say what I would say, but so much better. And I hesitate to write, sure I can never match up.

Stop fishing for compliments, my mother would say, but such is not my intention. I just want to say what ails me on those days I don’t write (apart from being too busy, too tired, too caught up in life, apart from having to make a choice between reading and blogging, or taking my daughter to a movie and writing). I am critical, deeply so, of everything I write.

But in the last few days, three moments of grace have dropped into my life. First, Esperanca loved her book. It’s not finished, really, because the story got too big to be captured in one volume, so I planned a sequel — or two or three. “Write the rest,” Esperanca said two nights ago. “Please!” So I will.

Second, I got an email from Patry of Simply Wait, asking for entry into the private area of my long-abandoned Blog-City blog. Patry’s been dealing with health issues the past few months, and I’ve followed her journey as she has blogged about it, amazed at the precise beauty of each entry, and the grace with which she withstands challenges. I have prayed for her every night, too, sent om manis as I do to all those who struggle, a silent well-wisher. Her email request to gain access to Blog-City lit up my day. I have admired her writing since I first started blogging, and that she asked to enter the site, to read my work, warmed me thoroughly.

And third, Dale of Mole commented a couple of blog entries ago, asking me where he could get a copy of Esperanca’s book. He’d looked on Lulu.com, he said, and couldn’t find it. I have a long list of blogs I read regularly, that I subscribe to on Bloglines. Dale doesn’t do Bloglines, so I get Blogarithm’s “Blogmail” instead, just for Dale, so that as soon as he updates, I can read him. I always want to comment, as with Patry, but find myself frozen too often because others have said what I might say better, and you can only leave so many (0)s on one person’s site!

His request for Esperanca’s book carried me through several days of delight — OK, is still carrying me! Someone who isn’t related to me — hmmmm, that doesn’t work, given that those who ARE related to me have no interest in my writing — let’s see, someone who isn’t obligated to me in some way actually went looking for my little children’s book, willing to spend money on it, and then asked me where to get it when he couldn’t find it. That’s amazing. Inspiring. Delightful. The best Christmas gift ever.

And so I decided on some New Year’s Resolutions. First, I’m going to keep working on the series. I have fun with it, and Esperanca likes it, and maybe others will too. Second, and perhaps more significantly, I’m going to release Esperanca’s book so people can find it and maybe even buy it. And third, I’m going to (try to) stop harassing myself about how terrible my writing is.

Before I release Esperanca’s book, though, I need to do just a little work with it. I was rushing to get it ready for her for Christmas, and I “published” it (just three copies) with some typos and a couple of confusing spots. I’m going to go back and fix those up. Last night I reread and fixed the first four chapters, and my goal is to work on it every day till it’s done, then open up the link on Lulu so that people can actually check it out and perhaps buy it if they want. (Thank you, Dale!)

Working on the book taught me something about myself as a writer. The first few chapters, written in Ireland three years ago, had to be significantly revamped to incorporate Esperanca as the hero of the story. The major revisions made the writing feel clunky to me. Too many glitches. The next few were written sporadically, often weeks or months apart. The last half of the book (or thereabouts) was written between September and December, on a fairly regular schedule most days, even if it was only 15 or 20 minutes a day. And the last half is way smoother. Once I got into the groove, the words flowed more fluently. Clearly I need a routine, discipline, and a goal. And that’s my final resolution: To work every day on writing, one way or another. To accept the gift given to me by recent quiet readers of my blog who have asked for entry to my password-protected posts, and by all those who read and comment, or read and don’t comment, and by two of my favorite bloggers, Patry and Dale. Thank you.

Jack Kerouac’s Advice

“He just stopped coming one day,” R.C. said. “He said, ‘I gotta go on the road.’ And he did.”

The college reading group was in the middle of discussing Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. This morning, before the meeting, I Googled the Beat writer, brushing up on his life in preparation for the discussion. Wikipedia noted his 30 steps to better writing. I paste them below.

  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
  2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
  3. Try never get drunk outside your own house
  4. Be in love with your life
  5. Something that you feel will find its own form
  6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
  7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
  8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
  9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
  10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
  11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
  12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
  13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
  14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
  15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
  16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
  17. Write in recollection and amazement for yrself
  18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
  19. Accept loss forever
  20. Believe in the holy contour of life
  21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
  22. Don’t think of words when you stop but to see picture better
  23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
  24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
  25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
  26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
  27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
  28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
  29. You’re a Genius all the time
  30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

I don’t want to be good any more. I want to write without editing, without censoring. I’m afraid of words in ways I never used to be. Locked myself away from the freedom of them, wrapped in rules, in advice, in teaching “how to.” I used to just write. Goddamit I want to write like that again. But there’s ice there in the place where the words reside. I want to be warm. I’m tired of winter. It all pulls, this way, that way this way that way this way this way this way no way. No way.

Too much comfort. One paper left to grade, and grades to post, and then the break, and a workshop to get ready for, and two new class preps, and ice in my throat, melting from too much comfort.

“Here,” he said in my ear, softly. “Right now.” Years ago, a dark stairwell, his hand, light filtering from behind a grill that blocked our way. The warehouse mall behind us, around a corner shoppers and security guards. The dark our blanket, but for that one glimmer ahead of us. I remember. I am in the center of remembering when the Old Guard speaks.

“I’ll take your recommendation any day,” he says, this crusty man who grumbles about everyone’s choices . He’s taught where I teach for more than four decades. He sat in on a class on Irish writers I taught when I first started there. “Those books in your class, they were excellent. I’ll go with your recommendation.”

I’m surprised. They’re all longing for Kerouac’s wildness to bring them back to freedom, to the illusion they can live in that melancholy wild desperation till they die, and that it will be romantic and beautiful even as their livers explode from cirrhosis. I think, There will be angels. I love that title: Desolation Angel. The only kind. But now they turn and look at me, the good girl, and I have the power to decide for the group. I don’t know what to say. Someone prompts me. “You’re the expert,” he says. “That’s why I thought we could do a Barry book.” The expert.

I know the author, went to dinner with him, interviewed him, wrote an article that was published in the Irish Literary Supplement. He called it a humdinger of an article. I love that he’s a mystic about his writing. I love the way he is “submissive to everything, open, listening,” the way he is a “crazy dumbsaint of the mind.”

Expert. I laugh. It’s not true. I haven’t read his most recent novels, not for lack of desire, but for lack of time and energy and the compass that points me. But still. “Yes,” I say, and suggest, and they accept my suggestion.

I am obtuse. I know it. If you want more, you can explore. The clues are there. But none of that matters. I just want to write, to not be good, to confess.

To confess.


Finally, yesterday, I laid down the final words for the story I wrote for my friend Esperanza (I should spell her name Esperanca, with a funny little squiqqle under the C, because she is Portugues and that is the Portuguese spelling for the word for Hope. Having called the character Esperanza for years, I changed the spelling after an internet search gave me the Portuguese word. I was glad. I didn’t want to give up the word Hope, but I wanted it in Portuguese. The internet is a wondrous thing.)

I wrote the book as though I had joined that “Write a Novel in a Month” site with a name I can never remember. You’re supposed to write every day, and I did, pretty much. It’s not long, not even the length the site recommend (50,000 words), but it’s long enough for what it is. It’s a series, after all. If Esperanca likes it, I’ll start the next book.

Then I spent some time figuring out how to format it for Lulu.com. There’s some issue with the transfer of fonts, with “layering.” You’re supposed to “flatten” it. I have no idea what it all means. The site has a conversion tool that will take your document and convert it to a PDF file, but if you get too excited with the fonts weird things happen. In the end, I stuck to Time New Roman for everything. The final version, 6×9 pages, space and a half (27 lines a page), with page numbers and a header that’s different only on the first page because I couldn’t figure out how to make it different with every chapter heading, is 142 pages long. I think it’s exciting enough to keep a kid’s attention, what with a talking dog and mystical otter and strange glittering doorway in the middle of a river that leads you to God knows what crazy adventures. But it’s filled with references to mythology and religions from around the world, so it’s deeper than just fantasy. For example the dog is Bran, from Irish mythology, a dog belonging to the famous Finn MacCool (anglicized spelling to help you a little with pronunciation!), and I’ve already told you who the otter is.

I’ve added Blake’s words, “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is: Infinite,” to the dedication page, which is, of course, dedicated to Esperanca, “without whom this book would never have been written.”

I made a cover, added a picture of Esperanca, and gave it a title. It looks fancy on my page at Lulu.com. It could fool me into believing I’ve written a real book, that real people might search for it and plunk down money. That their kids might read and enjoy it, and that the parents might read it and say to each other, “Oh, and don’t you think Nd*ll*h represents….?”

But I know it won’t look professional. The PDF file shows some warping of a line or a word here and there. I couldn’t get it all crisp and clean and so I finally accepted what I’d been given. Too many hours searching the internet looking for solutions and being hit with phrases like

  1. Command = put exe filename here (e.g. C:\\gs\\bin\\gswin32c.exe)
  2. Arguments = put arguments here (e.g. -sOutputFile=”%1″ -c save pop -f -)

And references to ghostscript and and “CutePDFwriter.” (What is that?? Can I meet him?)

And as for flattening: Isn’t a piece of paper already pretty flat? How can I flatten it further? Oh, wait, it’s the transparencies that have to be flattened. Oh, it’s all clear now. Transparently clear.

I did find Don‘s site somewhat helpful, but not enough to decide I wanted to embed and flatten and otherwise shape my book-for-three-people into something mass marketable. So I stuck with Times New Roman, and accepted a little minor distortion here and there (still readable, if not always beautiful), and shut my computer with relief.

Still, I can’t wait to hold the finished product in my hand, to wrap it and put it under the tree, and to watch Esperanca’s face as she finally gets to see the book she’s been begging me to write for three years.

After Thanksgiving bits n’ pieces

It’s 61 degrees in Dad’s house. I hate the cold. I’m wearing a coat and gloves to type, drinking tea. The milky morning light is burning off the water as the sun rises. The water is bleached and still now; everything seems to wait.

Later on, we’ll be finishing off a downstairs room in my sister’s house. Every time I come over there’s some project to do. Ruth May’s house is old and with the baby she can’t do much. Dad’s knees are bad and he can’t kneel any more. I’ll put on a mask and try to put the skirting board back in the room where she (we) put down laminate wood floor and painted in the fall. The paint will slip through the mask and I’ll cough and wheeze anyway. The three of us are worthless at home improvement.

The dogs try to help, but they’re not allowed in the basement. They’ll skitter around upstairs, angry at being shut out. Sadie will climb the gate and come down anyway, or push through and come down. She wants to be with me. She’s used to it. Yes, she’s spoiled, and I don’t care.

Outside Dad’s window, the cormorants sun themselves on the nearby pilings. They lift their wings to dry them, and their black feathers shine. Obadiah hasn’t been back since Leah’s birthday on the fourth. I’m glad. Every time the heron is absent on an insignificant day, her appearance on a meaningful day becomes more poignant. Still, I miss her. The year Mum died, she was here any time I came down, as though to convey her approval. Now, I guess, she just expects that I’ll be here quite often. She comes only for birthdays or gatherings, or when illness threatens.

I’ve been working on my young adult novel for my friend’s daughter. It’s to be a Christmas present, though the odds of me finishing it in time are getting slimmer and slimmer. It keeps getting more complicated. It’s got to be a series, like Harry Potter, but with theme of religious pluralism and respect for this spinning planet that we are hellbent on destroying. I started it three years ago, then stopped, then started again. I’ve stopped and started only because my friend’s daughter keeps asking about it, so finally I decided to write it for her, making a commitment to her that becomes binding on me. It’s slow going, though. It requires research, for it weaves in mythology and religion from all over the world. The protagonist, who is my friend’s daughter, of course, loves otters, so I had to find an otter friend for her. I found an Irish otter, Dobhar ChĂș, who is white with a black cross on his back, and who is dangerous in all the mythology about him. But the otter in my book, the “water hound” in my story, is not dangerous at all, except to those who would destroy that which he is charged to protect.

To write about him, I have to find pictures, read about him, find the core of his being in the stories about him so that I can present him to my friend. He comes alive that way.

Dad is downstairs…. Time to start the day.