Archive for April, 2007

Well, it’s a good thing I gave myself permission to not write one word while on vacation since that’s basically what I did. Or what I didn’t do. I admire the concept of writing everyday even at the beach or the ski slopes or wherever your vacation happens to take you. But in reality, sometimes I just need a break from it and am willing to suffer the consequences of that which is that I have to slog my way back into a piece of writing. Although sometimes I come back completely refreshed. Usually it’s a combination of the two.

I find myself in this vicious cycle of having a really productive writing day then completely slacking off the next day. Not sure what that is about at all. I even leave myself a note on where to pick up the next day but still I avoid my desk for hours until I get so disgusted with myself that I finally pick up a pen or the mouse just to scribble something even if it’s about how disgusted I am that I haven’t written all day and lo and behold I am suddenly writing and back in the groove. It’s a crazy crazy way to live which makes me believe in having to write and not just wanting to.

I did manage to finish a draft of a story for my group last weekend. It was supposed to be the second story in my collection but it is now the first and it just fits so perfectly there. This is easily the 14th or 15th revision of this particular story and I can tell that although it is very close to being done I probably have another 2 or 3 to go. But these are the fun revisions. It’s the polishing of each paragraph and each sentence and validating each word choice. I am currently reading “Reading Like a Writer” by Francine Prose and she has me totally enraptured with language again- both my own and in the writing of others. She opens reading up into this whole new dimension. Which brings me to my current project. This is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. It’s my own self-guided MFA.

This is the plan. But first a little background…

I came to writing long after I already had a degree in art and began working as a graphic designer. Just when I decided to go back to school to pursue an English degree I found out that I was finally pregnant after trying for two years. So, of course, school gets put on hold. I kept a very tenuous thread connected to writing while my children were little through various workshops and classes. My life line ended up being a workshop through the Writers Voice called “MothersWrite.” We gathered each week for two hours to write, talk about writing and how to combine that with motherhood. And they provided childcare. It was a dream come true. Once my youngest had entered precshool I took myself to the Starbucks around the corner and wrote for those 2-3 hours, filling notebooks with tons of what Natalie Goldberg calls writing practice. Characters began to emerge along with possible stories but I wasn’t concerned with that, just with showing up to the page.

My real commtitment came once the girls entered school full time. Suddenly there were these seven hours a day that I had to myself. Much of the stories I have finished happened since then. Ron Carlson says that the first 20 stories you write are your apprenticeship. I have 29 that I can recall. Periodically I consider going back to school but that just isn’t feasible now that we have two daughters, one only five years away from graduating high school and going off to college herself. So I ask myself what would an MFA give me besides the degree and the connections. 1. Time to write. I’ve already established that I have that. It’s just a matter of using it much more productively than I currently am. 2. Feedback on my work. Well, I have that too. I am part of a committed writing group who provide not only encouragment but incredibly insightful and thoughtful comments that make me want to make my work even better. 3. Reading lists that lead to provocative discussions of classic and contemporary writers. Now I have that too. At least the reading list part. I went online and printed out a couple of MFA Reading Lists then cross checked it against my own extensive collection and came up with a reading plan that should keep me busy for quite awhile.

The plan is to finish the Francine Prose book. (Oh, how I wish I had her leaning over my shoulder as I read, pointing out every nuance of every sentence and word choice.) My hope is that by reading her book it will help make me a more careful reader. The next book will be “Master Class in Fiction Writing” by Adam Sexton. It’s broken into elements of fiction accompanied by the story that helps illustrate that particular element of craft.

Story Structure: “Araby”
Characterization: “Sense and Sensibility”
Plot: “The Secret Sharer”
Description: “Rabbit, Run”
Dialogue: “A Severed Head”
POV I- Participant Narrators: “As I Lay Dying”
POV II- Exclusively Observant Narrators: “Beloved”
Style, Voice: “A Farewell to Arms”
The World of Story: “Lolita”

That should keep me busy for the next couple of years since I also plan on continuing with my own reading for pleasure. The main thing I am learning so far is to read much more slowly. To savor the sentences. When I was in art school I was great at the gesture drawings- sketches of live models that we did in one minute increments to warm up. I sturggled when it came time to develop those drawings, layer them with texture and details- very similar to writing. I’ve filled close to forty notebooks with writing practice which is a bunch of timed writings done- you guessed it- really fast. Now it’s time to slow down in both my reading and my writing.


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Okay,okay, so Walter Mosley is on to something with this writing everyday thing so that the “continent of thought below your conscious mind” can work on the story. The book was available earlier than the date I saw on amazon. I ended up buying it a week and half ago and pretty much finished it in one sitting. It is a slim volume but full of sage advice from a writer who works at his craft. I found the third person narrative section especially helpful since that is an element I am curently struggling with. He states that “…we are viewing the world through the prism of the intelligent eye perched on Brent’s shoulder, an intelligence without emotional response.” That pretty much echoes what my writing group came up with when I read a passage from a short story that swings from a ten-year old girl’s thoughts to an objective narrative voice within the same paragraph. They suggested that for it to work in my particular story that when the narrative voice is on, it can’t include any of my usual metaphorical language. It’s hard for me to do but it makes complete sense. I’ve been working on my story, even when I don’t feel like it and finally it has fallen into some shape that feels right. And once that happened things from the first story fell into place. I’d wake up and think,”Oh, it’s Barbie dolls in that scene, not baby dolls. And this scene needs to be moved from the second story to the first.” And so on. So I am waking up like he said, further along in my story than when I left it the day before.

He also suggests that there is no vacation from writing. Literally. That you should write on the beach or wherever you happen to be. If you get a tooth pulled then put your character in a dentist’s chair. Well… I leave for vacation tomorrow and I can pretty much guarantee you that I will not be writing everyday. Or maybe any day. I’ll bring my notebooks and if I write anything that’s something since I am giving myself permission to just not write for the next week. Does that make sense? With the pressue off, I am certain I will probably write at some point. Whereas if I demanded that I write everyday, well, that just wouldn’t happen and I’d have the guilt on top of it.

I am stunned that Oprah chose “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy. Thrilled but stunned. It is not her usual woman truimphs in the end sort of novel. Not by a long shot. I read this the day it came out practically and pretty much in one sitting. Could not put it down. I even underlined sentences as I read… they are that breathtkaing. Anyway, now that it’s out in paperback, everyone should read it. Really, go buy. Read it. It’s amazing.

Another book I couldn’t put down was “Awake in the Dark” by Shira Nayman. These are short stories and a novella that explore the deeply held secret life of holocaust survivors, what they endured, what they had to do to survive and the toll it took on them and their children as the secrets eventually surface. Highly recommended.

I am currently reading “Moral Disorder” by Margaret Atwood. Will write on it when I finish. So so good…as usual.

My piece is now on http://estellabooks.blogspot.com/2007/04/three-hundred-and-ninety-three-and.html. There are also interviews with a some great writers- Billy Collins, Sara Gruen.

The Altercations conference in Ann Arbor is open for registration today. I went last year and ended up creating two beautiful collages that are now hanging in my house. This year I am interested in two classes. One in image transfer and the other in painting and mixing colors to get vibrant lush backgrounds.

Just finished a logo and sign for a church out in Arizona. And my sister and I also designed some logo ideas for our other sister in Florida. That was fun.

We are off to Connecticut and Philadelphia tomorrow for spring break. It’s not a warm beach but it is family and our daughters seem to prefer that. So, no more posts until the week of April 15. Now I get to go pick my books for the trip. I love that part of packing.

“The reader is always looking for two things in the novel: themsleves and transcendence.”
– Walter Mosley

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