Sunday, February 27, 2011
On Friday I accomplished an important first in my writing life: I submitted the personal essay I've been working on to a publishing company. It was a great relief to send it along. While the body of the piece came fairly quickly, I struggled to the last minute with the title and the ending. Luckily I was able to call upon my writing group (which hasn't been active in a few years!) for helpful feedback. Thanks to these three ladies, my piece became what it was meant to be. In its final form the essay is much stronger thanks to Jeans, Pam and Nadine. Thank you, Skylarks!
I imagine it will be several months before I hear back from the publisher on whether they will accept my essay, entitled For Tristan: A Meditation on Grief, Loss and Healing. Without wanting to get too ahead of myself, I can't help but think of its fate if it's accepted. If it is, I will find myself enjoying another first: negotiating a contract for the terms of sale. I am hopeful but also know if this anthology doesn't pick it up, I will find another home for it somewhere.
I now plan to return to some other writing projects that have been set aside. I will return to writing articles for hubpages. I also would like to start another essay for an anthology the publisher I've just submitted to has put a call out for. The subject of their anthology is birth stories, and I do believe I have a great one. Finally, I want to start honing the essay that is due mid-April for the Event creative non-fiction contest.
One thing I'm learning as I write daily is that the form my writing takes doesn't seem to matter. As long as I continue to be productive, it comes much easier than if I hadn't been writing at all. I'm enjoying the variety of working on a little of this, a little of that, and managing to keep to a self-imposed schedule. I've never been able to work so consistently before, and am proud of my progress since starting this blog. To others, I might actually appear to be a "real" writer. I am starting to feel like one myself.
By my next blog post I hope to have five new articles published on hubpages.com. If I don't start producing them in quick succession, I won't make my goal of 30 hubs in 60 days. Now off to research and write!
Friday, February 18, 2011
My experiment to act like a writer (even when I don't particularly feel like one) has kept me busy again this week. As I promised myself (see last post), I've been spending my writing time working on two essays simultaneously. I only stopped working on the essays for a half hour to post a newly revised poem I started months ago. I felt compelled to do this when I realized I was getting traffic to my poetry blog, but nothing new had gone up in a while.
The thing with putting anything out there is that eventually you're bound to feel like whatever you've shared is no longer you, or as good as you could do if you started over right now. I try to get past this self-consciousness by putting new stuff out there that may or may not be better...but at least is new enough for me to feel excited about versus that dreadful feeling that I've posted something that has now expired in my psyche, or is just subpar. I have many unfinished poems sitting on my hard drive, and was lucky that the one I chose to work on and finally called finished allowed me to let it go so (relatively) quickly.
The two simultaneous essays have been interesting and satisfying to work on. While my focus is on the piece that will go to the Australian publisher next Friday, there are bits and pieces arriving as I continue to write that are more suitable for Event. Only by writing have I been able to recognize which paragraphs belong in which essay. My subconscious seemed to know what it was doing, but it took the rest of me a bit longer to realize that the first essay is narrative and the second more impressionistic. It's been an interesting process to write this way, with the security of knowing that little of my effort is being wasted, and that most everything belongs somewhere. I have always enjoyed the process of collage, and there is something fun about cutting and pasting sentences and paragraphs, moving them around in each piece, and back and forth between the two files.
Always happy when an allegory rises to the surface, I have been thinking about my experience of writing as a conversation that takes place between the two halves of my brain - or better still, a partnered card game. One player puts down a leading card hoping her partner will put down an even better card to take the trick. Both partners, or halves, are doing their best with what they have to win the game. But each player can only play the cards in her hand. Sometimes my left brain is insisting it's spades but my right brain only has high hearts. Eventually, hopefully by the last round (or looming deadline), the team have made enough tricks to win the game. If not, and morale is high enough to keep trying, they start a new game until they get the results they want.
As I've been writing this week, I've always had an idea about what I want the end results to look like. I print out a draft, re-work it in pen and tell myself, OK, this time we're going to do it this way to get where we want to go. Right brain appreciates what left brain is doing but has the trump card - the special something that makes this particular piece unique, if only left brain could sit back and let her play. When I go back to the computer, my left brain can't help but take a look at what's already there and starts to focus on the minutiae, correcting typos that bug her and re-writing sentences the right brain has already thrown out or moved around. I get through the next draft and think, OK, THIS time the right brain takes all the tricks. In all this back and forth, I do feel like I am moving forward and getting closer with each re-write. I stand back and tolerate what is happening, knowing that it is something I can manage but probably not put a halt to entirely. So long as there are words to work with, everyone is happy and all is well.
Another development this week has been an offer from a friend to consider working with her on an artistic collaboration. She is an illustrator and needs help with some wordsmithing. It would be fun to work together again, as we've worked together on projects before, and she is very talented, wise and a lot of fun. This opportunity could turn out to yield a new stream of income for me as well. Julia Cameron (author of The Artist's Way) would no doubt interpret this opportunity as evidence to support her theory that the universe is supportive of artists, and if you spend the time just doing your stuff, a thousand unseen helping hands will arrive to help you.
Speaking of Julia Cameron, I have been thinking about her book, The Vein of Gold this week. While I was never able to complete the book, I did pick up the gist of it when I first bought it many years ago. For some reason, now is the time for me to finally come to realize and accept my own vein of gold. The vein of gold refers to an artist's area of particular interest or resonance that yields the greatest artistic results. She uses the example of an actor who has played many different types of characters from the comedic to the dramatic; if his vein of gold is the dramatic, while he can be amusing to watch in a comedy film, he will always feel more at home in the serious role he has a natural talent for playing.
I think while I have tried many different kinds of writing, that my true vein of gold is in the genres of personal memoir and creative non-fiction. While I love poetry, and will probably always find it is the best vehicle for expressing a certain type of thought or feeling, I've decided to spend more of my energy now in producing personal essays. There are many projects that are asking me to be written as essays (and a few books of poems, too, that I think will arrive later). Each idea or piece captured my imagination and heart the moment they were conceived, and have been waiting patiently - some for years - to be written. It feels like this backlog of projects exist, complete, in an imaginary slush pile on the desk of an editor, and are starting to feel quite annoyed that I haven't done my part to pull them down onto the paper they want so badly to live on.
Monday, February 14, 2011
This past week I've turned my focus away from the short articles I've been writing. Writing hubs has been great writing practice, and it's been satisfying to take on projects that I can easily start and finish. While I am still planning to try to write 30 hubs in 60 days, I have switched gears in order to meet a new deadline.
Last week while doing some research for an article about representations of miscarriage in the arts, I came across a call for submissions for an anthology on miscarriage stories. The deadline for submitting to the anthology, which will be published by Australian publisher Mostly for Mothers: February 26. Fortunately I had recently done some pre-writing on this subject for a creative non-fiction contest for Event magazine. I decided I would focus most of my writing time on a personal essay which would be submitted to Mostly for Mothers, knowing I could modify some of what I'd written and incorporate it into a longer non-fiction piece for Event.
This blog, my articles and any other creative writing I've done since the beginning of this year has taken place because of a timely mental shift. I've somehow taught myself to write during the minutes and hours that appear in the day when my kids are busy and happy. I know this is something many writers taught themselves to do at a much earlier stage in their lives than I did; for some, there would be no writing if they didn't learn how to write with whatever time they've been given. Until recently, I let myself not write rather than learn how to do it with the bits of time I've had.
I think part of what's made it easier for me to finally do has been my desire to work on several projects at a time, and commitment to always be working on something. I am an ideas person, and often have up to ten projects in various stages of progress on my dining room table. I am also constantly doing research on something, and if I'm waiting in an office for an appointment, there's bound to be a book in my purse I can read while I wait, which are also useful minutes towards my overall writing process.
Having a number of ideas and pieces on the go at all times ensures that I can pretty much pick up anywhere in my home, and choose whichever one I feel most like working on at that moment, sidestepping writer's boredom. I've also started writing in chunks - that is, writing several pieces on different aspects of one subject (at this time, miscarriage), and this has helped me transition to a personal approach to the same topic fairly easily. Hopefully it will also put me in a good position to meet my anthology deadline.
I've started my draft essay with a feeling of ease (though I would hesitate to call the process easy). I am just simply writing, and not thinking too hard about it. I know what I am working on is a draft, and that my right brain is hard at work coming up with metaphors and new ways of expressing a story I've verbally told over and over again. My left brain will take care of the editing later. Working this way, I find myself with my first draft half finished and roughly 1500 words. I expect that the piece will change dramatically by February 26, but I think I can make the deadline. And even if it isn't accepted, I will feel satisfied for having written it.
This essay is part of a larger "something" I knew I would have to write even as I was going through the experience. Mother's Day will be the second anniversary of the miscarriage I am writing about. If I can write two good-enough-to-submit essays to two separate publishers by the mid-April Event deadline, I will have written toward one of my most hopeful personal goals: to try my best to make something beautiful out of something awful.
Sunday, February 6, 2011
Lately change has seemed the only constant. I feel like I am suddenly travelling a new trajectory, and I am moving at a pace that is brisk and exciting in my writing and my life.
I became a hubber (defined by Urban Dictionary as "a person who writes informative articles, which are called Hubs on the website Hubpages") ten days ago. I have been enjoying writing articles for a very modest audience on topics mostly related to pregnancy, parenting and family although I have a few in the works about travel as well. When not writing articles, I have been thinking about them and researching them. I am working towards what I hope is a realistic goal of 30 hubs in 60 days. I am also working on trying to monetize my articles, which is requiring some commitment to learning new things, in an area of generally low interest for me. But I am motivated, and am hopeful that my efforts will eventually pay off in some passive income.
Aside from the hope of monetary gain, I have been hoping for readers. The response to my writing thus far by the hubber community has been gratifying if modest. My most read article to date has been my first - a piece about how to support a woman who has had a miscarriage. I believe pregnancy loss is a topic that I will be writing about quite a lot, cross genres. I have also been thinking about creating a blog that would serve as a kind of portal for women who are coping with miscarriage; a place where I could point to useful resources whether they be articles, books or other websites. I very much like the idea of helping women find what they need quickly and easily at a difficult, overwhelming time. There are many, many webpages and websites out there, but not necessarily organized. I would feel good about helping to bring some order to all the great efforts others have made to present helpful information, be it technical, medical, emotional or spiritual.
I feel as though with my family life more stable now, with my son almost a year old, my maternity leave wrapping up, and my return to the workforce imminent, that I am in a good place to establish some new habits. Simply writing and putting it out there without too much angst is new and good. Writing every day, with a small goal in mind, is something I hope I can do on my commute when I go back to work. Optimally doing it every day, consistently, with the knowledge of how to make a return on the articles, is something I hope will form a kind of seed fund for other writing projects I have in mind. There are projects I have been thinking about for years that I have never lost the desire to make a reality. I believe that timing is everything, and that the right time is coming soon...
The most positive thing to come out of my recent work has been the feeling of motivation, of enthusiasm, of inspiration, of possibility and of accomplishment. I am enjoying this new feeling of competition against myself, of seeing what I can do, of "just doing it" instead of thinking about it so much. Right now it really does feel like I am writing for my life, as I strive towards my deepest hopes and dreams. I hope to make the small steps each day and slowly change my life over the next five years. Ultimately I hope to find a way to write for my life every day, to write myself into a career, and to find a way to work on my writing at home by the time my son is in elementary school.
Pre-hub pages, a few short weeks ago, I began compiling a spreadsheet with upcoming deadlines for contests and other opportunities for publications in the areas of poetry, short fiction and creative non-fiction. I submitted my first postcard story to a contest organized by the Brucedale Press; this was also a first for me in that the story had to be acrostic (26 sentences, first sentence beginning with A and each following sentence starting with the next letter in the alphabet, with the last sentence beginning with Z). I really enjoyed the challenge of a confining structure, and a firm deadline. Probably it helped to have limitations imposed on the story, which forced the plot to move along quickly. I would like to try a project like that again, and am hopeful the story was maybe just a little bit good. After the contest ends, I will post my little story on http://nicolette23.wordpress.com/; if I post it now the piece would be considered published, which is against the contest rules.
More attempts to conquer the world, one word at a time, coming soon...