Category Archives: Writing

Big News: Artist-in-Residence at Acadia National Park!

I got some thrilling news this week: I was just named 2014 Artist-in-Residence at Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine! I am beyond thrilled about this, as well as deeply, deeply honored to be chosen. 😀

Autumn at Eagle Lake, Acadia National Park. Photo courtesy of National Park Service, US Dept of the Interior

Autumn at Eagle Lake, Acadia National Park. Photo courtesy of National Park Service, US Dept of the Interior

Artist residencies are vital places where writers, painters, musicians, and other fine art-focused folks can escape the real world and carve out time and space to create. You know how it is: Between work + family + a continual thrum of chores and obligations + daily dastardly distractions (ie the time-suck of online movie streaming and social media), it can be difficult, if not impossible, to find hours and energy for your creative muse. Artist residencies offer a solution: While in attendance, you ignore your regular responsibilities and devote yourself to your craft. Residencies are extremely competitive, but if selected, HUGELY valuable and amazing.

My artist residency at Acadia will take place this October and November. Acadia is giving me a fully-furnished apartment right at the park (thus the “in-residence” portion of the title); I’ll spend a little over four weeks exploring the area’s gorgeous terrain and, most importantly, writingwritingwriting. During my stay, I’ll also volunteer an hour or so each week working with 5th and 6th graders, helping at Acadia’s Halloween Festival, and/or giving a public poetry reading. All in all, it will be a highly productive month. I cannot wait!

My wholehearted and immense thanks goes out to the fine people at SERC Institute and Acadia National Park for selecting me for this incredible opportunity!

Friends, you will hear lots more from me in the coming months about artist residencies and Acadia and my official residency writing plan, but for the moment I’ll leave you with this undeniable truth:

I CANNOT STOP GRINNING. 😀

 

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Much December Goodness (ie, Updates, Character Development, and Publishing News)

‘Tis time for an update, so some say. 🙂 As you might have guessed, the past few months have raced by, filled with writing afternoons, crazy teaching moments, and breathtaking travel. Instead of legitimately participating in November’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month for the unindoctrinated), I decided to set a longer-term writing schedule to weave a new story onto the page. With any luck (and, err, gumption), in the next three months I will have a solid first draft ready for first readers and feedback.

These initial stages of writing are the most difficult for me. At the beginning of a story, I don’t have an immediate connection to my characters. I may know their names, have a general idea of their appearances, or understand one unquenchable fact about their pasts, but they aren’t yet people. I don’t enjoy or despise the protagonist. I’m not in love with the hero. I  rarely, if ever, instantly care about their futures. My characters start as acquaintances; they have the potential to develop into full-blown help-you-bury-the-body friendships, but at the onset, we can only smile and reintroduce ourselves awkwardly at every engagement. I’ve tried character mapping and profiles, but they feel insincere and inorganic to my creative muse. Thus, I am left to struggle and force banter at the equivalent of a friend-of-a-friend’s fancy cocktail party, where the host is dating my ex and I’m wearing knee-torn, mud-splattered jeans.

It does get easier. After spending a lot of time with my characters, I start to hear their voices in my head (usually at inopportune moments– for example, at the doctor’s office). I begin to understand better their motivations and fears, as well as their intrinsic reactions to other characters. The story smooths out. Plot points are reached. Words fly on the screen, and whole scenes pop into existence in mere minutes.

Until then? My characters and I circle each other dubiously, and the story putters along.

With any luck, I’ll be partying with my characters soon. 🙂

***

Now, in other news, I just learned that The Monongahela Review will be publishing a poem of mine in the upcoming issue! 😀 MR is an awesome online lit journal; you can download current and previous issues for free as PDFs or read online through Issuu.

As soon as this baby drops, I’ll post links and many, many exclamation points! 😛

***
AND… in some other news, one of my poems will be featured this week on Andy Knowlton‘s A Poem A Day blog!

The story of Andy’s and my acquaintance is rather charming, in a You’ve-Got-Mail-without-the-love-affair sorta way. Towards the beginning of my residence in Korea, I read an article online about international grassroots poetry movements, a segment of which was dedicated to his Drunken Poets project. Turns out, Andy is an American writer based in Seoul, South Korea, a mere 3.5 hours from my town of Yeosu. I shot him an email, admiring and cheering on his art/poem efforts… and he wrote back. Thus began an electronic friendship. 😛

Andy creates his own artwork –the epitome of cool– for his A Poem A Day blog. Check out the work he’s done to this point (Day 340)! It’s impressive. I’m very honored and excited to be included on the website!

As soon as the poem/artwork posts, I’ll share it with you here. I may also print out a million copies and mail them to friends and/or random strangers. There’s a 50/50 chance you’ll get one. 😉

Check out Andy Knowlton's website for more info on his poetry, The Drunken Poets project, and his A Poem A Day blog! [andyknowlton.com]

Check out Andy Knowlton’s website for more info on his poetry, The Drunken Poets project, and his A Poem A Day blog!

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20 Steps for Starting a New Writing Project

A Writer's Tools

 

1. Check Facebook.

2. Check Twitter.

3. Respond to at least 7, but not more than 56, tweets and/or Facebook statuses.

4. Check email.

5. Google pictures of your main character.

6. Get distracted by pictures of Richard Armitage.

7. Refresh Twitter.

8.  Search Pinterest for photos of your setting.

9. Pin 13 different recipes for pie.

10. Double-check the Fall TV Lineup.

11. Double-check your DVR.

12. Browse Spotify to create a writing soundtrack.

13. Dance wildly around the room to Queen and Silversun Pickups.

14. Pour a glass of water. Hydration is important.

15. Open Microsoft Word.

16. Check Facebook.

17. Decide your main character’s older brother has a tattoo.

18. Google cool tattoos.

19. Return to Word.

20. Stare blankly at the blinking cursor for an hour before heading to bed.

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What Happened With NaNoWriMo….

I blinked, and there went November.

I participated in NaNoWriMo (hence my lack of updates) …but did I reach my 50,000 word goal? Not so much. Apparently I feel the need to weigh every syllable before I type it, and then reweigh it as I finish each word and each sentence, and then judge that syllable for its accuracy and sound quality seven times before the end of the paragraph. Yes, I realize I was battling against NaNoWriMo’s entire premise. I truly tried to break a lifetime of OCD writing habits, but I was only so-so successful. Still, SW is coming together, and I have a large portion of the first draft sitting in a folder on my desktop. I’m sure I’ll return to it soon. And despite my overall NaNoWriMo failure, I did benefit from scheduling regular writing jams, a practice I plan to continue in 2013. By golly, SW will be written!

(I may post a small excerpt from SW in the near future….)

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Storms and Lists (but not lists about storms)

Hurricane Sandy is now bearing down on the east coast. The images are terrifying. And magestic. What awful, amazing creative inspiration.

My thoughts and prayers are with you all as you buckle down and survive the storm and its aftermath over the next few days. I know I’ll be contacting several close friends later tonight to see how they’re managing, where they’ve relocated to, and what I can do to help. I hope everyone is safe, dry, and warm this stormy day.

***

In writing news, I’ve been frantically composing lists for SW. Once upon a time, I was an obsessive lister: groceries; types of flowers I wanted in my (current and future) garden; Must-Read-Books releasing in the next month, two months, before Christmas. Since we are in the last week of October, the final week before NaNoWriMo begins, I’ve attempted to organize my thoughts in every spare moment by composing lists on my characters (their traits, locations they’ve lived, pets they’ve owned, family relationships), the setting (businesses downtown, road names, natural features), scenes I’ve written, scenes I need to write, names of secondary characters…. You name it, it’s probably jotted down somewhere.

I do believe I have a slightly better grasp on SW‘s world. Which is good.

… But.

In the midst of all my organizing, I’ve also noticed a severe decline in actual writing taking place. I’ve allowed my OCD listing to overpower the story itself.

Not good.

My epiphany today: It’s all fine and dandy to delve into prep work, but at some point, we just need to sit down and write, lists and research be damned.

Will all my compulsive listing help my writing process over the next month? I have no idea. But my goal this week is to strike a better balance between prep work and writing. I don’t want to know this much about my characters and fail to bring them to life.

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…Can music save your mortal soul, and can you teach me how to dance real slow…

No, I’m not throwing around song lyrics for the heck of it. (Really, though, is there ever a bad reason to quote “American Pie?”)

This is what has been on my writing-mind of late: SW‘s Playlist. No pressure. Shouldn’t be too difficult. Just need to assemble a few tunes with the power to blank out the rest of the world.

Uh huh.

For those of us who prefer to write far from home and its plentiful temptations, chores, and distractions, a writing playlist (and an excellent set of earbuds) is key. (Nothing like coffee mugs clanging and neighbors conversing to put you off your grammar.) Beyond the immediate benefits, I’ve also found that the songs I choose greatly influence the composition itself– molding scenes, intensifying the mood, giving my words an echo I might not have otherwise recognized — so I’ve become verrrrrry deliberate in what I select, and the order in which I select it.

A good friend of mine writes to a smorgasbord of international pop (read: American Top 40 circa 1993, but in foreign tongues). Another prefers hard core electric guitar riffs. Me? In the past, I’ve found it difficult to work with other people’s lyrics rolling in my head.

Here’s an example:

A few years back, I was rocking out, writing, to a certain power ballad. I was on a roll: The words just streamed from my fingertips, tempting me to raise a Fist of Triumph for the success of the poem. I was so excited about it, in fact, I immediately emailed the draft to another poet.

…minutes later… <phone rings>

Poet Friend: “Umm, Jen?”
Me: “Hi! You already read it? What do you think?”
Poet Friend: <pause> “Were you just listening to <name of a very well known band>?”
Me: “Wow! How did you know?”
Poet Friend: … “Yeah. Have you read your poem?”

Needless to say, I found it necessary to switch to instrumental music after that.

Now I’m working on the playlist for SW. I find myself once again drawn towards songs with lyrics. (Really loving Mumford and Sons at the moment.) Maybe I should attempt a mix? Make a couple different playlists, in case the classical/instrumental soundtrack is needed? Perhaps I should form different song collections by intended mood/theme? Hmmm….

What specific songs or genres of music do you write to? Is there an artist that makes you want to pull out your pen and scribble away? Or are you one of those horrible, horrible souls who can sit and write anywhere, regardless of exterior noise? 😉

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Submission Hell

 

Okay, that may be a wee bit dramatic. Perhaps “Submission Limbo” would be a better title.

For the past week, whenever I’ve needed a break from SW, I’ve focused on revising poems– some ancient little things, leftover from my MFA days, others very new, only just squirmed onto paper. I haven’t spent a lot of time in this genre of late, and it was invigorating to delve back into the nuances of sound and language, view my poems as fresh beasts. And beasts some of them were. <shudder>

I figured, since I was already at it, I should also check my poetry submission log, the excel worksheet I use for tracking all my poems and chapbooks out in the world.

<cough>

If computer programs could get dusty, this one would be riddled with mites.

It was time to reenter the publication circuit.

I threw together a few different submission packets, sent them out to maybe a gazillion different journals and magazines.

It’s been a few days now. Most of my submissions are still swimming out in the ether, as expected. But it’s nerve-wracking, folks. Even though I’ve been an editor on a couple journals and I remember the time + energy this process takes, even though I know I won’t receive notification for weeks, if not months, I still have to force myself not to obsess and check the submission managers 29 times a day.

(Yes, 29. Yesterday I failed. And I counted.)

How do you handle the submission process? What strategies do you have for thickening your skin during the painful publication/rejection wait?

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Battles …(plus reference to delicious baked goods)

It’s not often that I have an entire 24-hour period free of responsibility or strict plans. Holy mackerel, I’ve been looking forward to today for weeks: I envisioned sleeping in, delving deep into my story without needing to watch the clock, maybe baking some heal-the-sick-amazing double-chocolate chip cookies. Mmmmm. The day was going to be perfect.

Of course, though, reality is never so pretty.

1. My neighbors decided something desperately needed hammering at a very early hour. Very early. And it had to take place on our shared wall, which butts up to my bed. …Grrrrrr. (I don’t know what it is about my neighbors and pounding things.)

2. I’d been in denial about chores. They’ve piled up for a few days, and the dutiful, practical me insists I complete them before any writing take place.

3. Just checked my cupboard. Completely out of sugar. Uh huh.

Now, none of these hurdles is insurmountable– Meijer’s is just down the street, after all, and there are plenty of hours remaining this afternoon for laundry AND writing. But the day has certainly not progressed flawlessly.

I learned the same lesson this week with my story. You may know what I’m talking about: The characters will not cooperate. Originally, I had all these plot-points and plans for the long-term shape of the book, but noooooo, my characters had to go and grow personalities, and now a few of the scenes I’ve written no longer fit, and the protagonist insists on walking down a nasty, garbage-stricken alley when I know she should really be on the other side of town, and she stubbornly won’t say what I want her to say, and now she wants a tattoo, and man, I have to re-sculpt my plan for the book. I’ve lost control over my story.

In the bigger picture, this isn’t a bad thing. The writing is growing organically, rather than sticking to a potentially-lifeless imposed script. I like that my characters are mouthing back.

But in this moment? Half of what I know about the plot and setting and characters will be chucked. It’s unsettling.

Who knows how this story will end up? Certainly not me.

Guess I’m in for a ride.

Yeah, I’m gonna need those cookies.

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Plotting Euphoria!

 

For the past week, I’ve found myself very easily distracted by the smallest, sometimes craziest of things — the type of car making that awful racket down the road, the smell of a banana three days overripe, the precise date a local department store put out Christmas decorations and supplies. I’ve felt a bit like a puppy:

Oooh! A bunny hopping into the brush! What the heck is it doing in the city? See how it — wait! Look! Kids doing tricks on bicycles! Cool! I wonder if they’ve ever jumped off  — what is that crazy racket next door? Gosh, it sounds like someone hammering the wall, or maybe they’re throwing heavy gym bags around, or maybe it’s that dance game on Xbox’s Kinect and they’re jumping up and down and that was so much fun for me and my brother the other night, I wonder what would happen if the jumping caused a 2 liter of pop to spill, or something broke off the table, maybe it was an antique lamp that came from Norway and…

You get my drift.

Here’s the thing, though: Every single detail I am connecting to my story. 

It’s as if I can’t turn the volume down on my creative self. Since I reopened the box on this new writing project, everything I observe or do inspires a nonstop brainstorming session. That bunny mentioned above? It moved into a scene for my main character, hiking alone. The kids on bikes? They’re now part of a flashback to my protagonist’s first day of high school. That banging sound I heard broke into several scenes which practically wrote themselves.

It’s not always this easy. Shoot, it’s never this easy, at least for me. And I’m not even convinced that these moments will enter into the larger picture for the story. But I’ve been so caught up in that world, learning my characters and the reasons they act the way they do, discovering molehills and mountains in the potential plot line itself, it feels as though I’m seeing the real world through a split lens.

Last night, I chatted with my dear friend Corey about our respective writing projects. (Corey is an absolutely amazing novelist — check out her blog at http://seecoreywrite.wordpress.com/) When I mentioned my insanity, she replied, “You’re definitely in plotting euphoria. Everyone goes there.”

Woooo-eeee, I hope so. And I hope my creative volume doesn’t turn down any time soon (even if I have people at work waving hands in front of my face and asking if I need to lie down).

So, what happens during your plotting euphoria? Does your creative self demand attention, too? How long does it usually last? And isn’t it kinda glorious? 🙂

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They say that time is a construct…

 

…and apparently I haven’t constructed in some time. 😉 A lot of major life changes have occurred over the past year and a half: I moved cross-country, taught first graders the rules of Bossy R, moved (again) cross-state, started two new jobs, and became a very devoted and frequently embarrassing aunt. (To strangers in the check out line: “Ooooh, look at this new photo of my nephew! He’s exactly 187 days old now, you know. Isn’t he the most beautiful and amazing baby in the history of the world?!”)

In the midst of all these changes, though, I lost my writing.

Okay, yes, there was the occasional poem composed for friends’ weddings, plus that night I freewrote about aliens before bed to clear my mind (you don’t want to know)… but overall, I’ve watched writing dissolve into that type of acquaintance-friend we all think about fondly but never seem to call.

Well, enough. No more blathering on about what-ifs and shoulda-beens, stories I found but didn’t have the creative gumption to explore. Today, this very moment, I am jumping-up-and-down-like-a-little-kid-at-Christmas ecstatic to begin a new writing project, one I’ve been brainstorming on randomly for a few years. It’s a young adult novel, and here are three very important points you need to recognize: 1) Young Adult is an entirely foreign writing genre for me; 2) Novel is an entirely foreign writing form for me; and 3) despite my irrepressible excitement, I’m scared witless about it. I’ve decided that NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as November) is just the push I need to jump back into writing with both feet and an arm, reconnect with that vital part of my creativity I left behind, and overcome my long-standing reticence on the project.

I’ll be updating much more frequently now, guaranteed, with all this actual writing taking place. 😉 We’ll see what problems, debates, questions, triumphs, fears, and never-thought-I’d-ever-write-this discussions arise!

I hope you’re as exhilarated as I am! 🙂

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