This year has not been easy: a new job that has steadily, repeatedly required me to work overtime; health issues; the usual. But I’m out of credit card debt (student loans are another matter), was able to take my cat to the vet, and I may be able to go to the dentist soon as well.
Through all this I’ve been writing and working with other writers (critiquing and collaborating) when I could find/create the time and energy to do so. I even managed to attend WisCon and present at a panel (despite working 9 days in a row with only one day off before doing another 9 day stint). Honestly, it’s been a struggle. I’ve relied on my dear partner for much support (I’d be starved and unclothed if it weren’t for him). I’ve not seen friends for months. I’d not written for long stretches of time, to say nothing of reading.
But I am writing: I’d carved out the time to take part in TNEO (The Never Ending Odyssey) this summer (which overtime allowed me to pay for), which was wonderful. I also got to meet a writing friend in person for the first time and it was as if we’d known each other for years.
I’d wanted to apply to Grad Schools and to both Clarions if finances allowed (one reason for new job), but reality is setting in–I do not have the time to prepare for and take the GRE, much less a Subject Test as well. I haven’t written anything NEW this year that’s polished, so I’m not sure with what I’d even apply to MFA programs or the Clarions. I’ve revised some stories, including what I’d sent these programs last year, but I’m not sure it’s the best idea to resend those. I do still have a few months before the Clarion applications are due, so there is hope for that. But applying to Grad School or MFAs is not happening this time around, and I am sad about that.
I’m hoping for balance looking forward. I’m not sure I will find it with my current job. For the moment, this is what life is. I’m doing what I can to keep writing. It may be significantly less than I’d like or hoped, but my cat is healthy and I can pay my bills. These things should help the pain of isolation and creative stunting some, shouldn’t they?
I’ll be at WisCon again this year! My work schedule is hectic, but I am making time for a panel.
We’ve even got a hashtag so you can Tweet about it: #BabyWriters
|The Baby Writer Panel|
Goals are a way of putting our selves into the future, achieving desires we now think we’ll want then or desires we have now but can’t fulfill until later. They are ways to achieve something that for any number of reasons we are unable to right this minute. In short, they help us focus and help us remember.
Goals may change. While on our way we may discover something more important, something we didn’t even know or something the process brought into sharper focus. Or, we may achieve the goals and realize we wanted something else entirely. We may achieve them and not feel the satisfaction we thought we would. I think mentioning these things is important because, in general, we could use reminding that Things Change. Sometimes we change (hopefully, and hopefully for the better). Sometimes achieving goals is unfulfilling because we don’t really know what we want. We humans are convoluted beings.
What are writing goals and what are they good for?
Setting writing goals helps me organize my thoughts and desires, the things I want to achieve with my writing but can’t do Right This Minute because writing is a Process and if it happened all at once I’m pretty sure authors would explode or implode or something. Organizing is a very Useful Tool and can improve your writing practice and your life in general. And like any tool, organizing is especially well adapted to some aspects of writing but not to others. Hammers–useful as hell when you need to drive a nail into wood, not so useful when you want to talk to someone on the other side of town (that’s what phones are for). In writing, keeping track of character arc and internal and external conflict and how all these things relate can be tricky. Notes, spreadsheets, pictographs, and other tools help to organize these so you can write and remember what your main character was struggling against (and what she’s struggling toward) so when you write her next scene you can focus on her progression and create the change in her you need to tell this tale.
Goals and organizing help in both plotting out how to expand on a story so that you properly “unpack” all the important details, and they can help you focus on what’s important so your story doesn’t sprawl.
Anything that involves a Process or is a Practice (like a writing practice or meditation practice) is a dynamic experience which evolves and that evolves you. Another way of saying, Things Change. Lots of change happens in writing. It should–to get better at anything you MUST change. That thing you did to keep you on track during your last big project may not work the best this time around, or the way you dealt with character development in your last few stories might not work for this character in this story. And please remember (*looks at self*), things do not change in a linear fashion. Linear or mono-directional or steady and predictable change is a work of fiction used to simplify math problems and other constructs so we can get a general idea of what’s going on and not feel like total idiots. But it’s not real. So we shouldn’t get upset when we make goals and don’t necessarily achieve every milestone on schedule and feel every elation and bit of satisfaction the way we thought we were supposed to.
But being creatures of brains that allow us to move through time in that special ghostly fashion that humans do, we can help ourselves move toward what we hope for and which we don’t have right now. And being creatures of immense complexity and unknowable depths, we can help ourselves understand when the goals change or we change or circumstances change, and through this we can help ourselves see the process for its own sake and not always for the end result.
Because maybe it’s the other way around–maybe we have goals so we can undergo a process, an evolution…
…and thereby change ourselves and know ourselves better.
I did it! My first pro-market re-write request re-written and submitted! Just now. *Whew* It feels good. I get to check off a writing goal on my dry-erase board, log another submission at The Submission Grinder, and feel accomplished.
Other goals in this fine (read:cold cold and barren but I’m trying to look on the brighter side of things) month of November:
- Tweaked NaNo goal–write five brand new stories!
- Submit to the new Zombies Need Brains anthology: Temporally Out of Order;
- Work on story for the Book Smugglers “First Contact“-themed issue (if you haven’t read their first issue, Subversive Fairy Tales, do it!);
- Look toward future submission goals: Hidden Youth anthology, Clarion (because OMG, look at that instructor lineup!), C.C. Finlay’s guest editing of Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction;
- Eat better–more vegetables if nothing else. Maybe get back into going on a daily walk.
You know, nothing too big, just ambitious enough to motivate my dragging ass.
My friend and fellow writer and Odyssey ’13 grad, Sofie Bird, is the genius and impetus behind the modified NaNo goal. Only hers is significantly more ambitious–she’s planning on writing ten short stories in November. She’s blogging about it here.
And you know where I’ll blog about my progress.
I’ve a tiny heap of partial blog posts sitting over there staring at me, and a too long gap between posting dates. (Connection?) The last post I started but did not finish was about goals: what they are, how they relate to writing, basic philosophical treatise that went nowhere. Clearly my brain knows things and is elbowing me trying to get my attention, because goals! I need to consider, write down, and clarify me some goals and then, you know, adhere. Follow through.
My writing habits and my goal-making follow the same pattern I use to do chores–I multitask. And what happens when I multitask? Less gets done than if I’d just stuck to some one thing (okay, or two things, let’s not get carried away) and followed it through. But the divergent multi-layered dance of thoughts in my mind! How will I keep all those thoughts and their relationships to one another and the interconnectedness and weave of interplay if I only follow one thought? I’ll lose so much.
But I lose plenty, too, when I try to follow them all because I rarely finish. This is undoubtedly somehow related to goals. I’m pretty sure.
So is organization. Something I’m still working on. Something that should be taught in schools–I know, in theory that’s what we learn while doing other things, like learning how to write and essay and a by-product of writing out all your “work” to math problems. But that’s not the same as learning how you think and how best (not only just one best, but you know, all the bests) to organize your thoughts according to your own special neurological processes.
This is the beginning. This is how we learn–we become aware of a need that is not being fulfilled, we imagine something that is not but could be, and we try to figure out how to get there to that place where that thing we want is. This is how goal-making starts. At least, I think it does.
Chuck Wendig offers a flash fiction challenge on his blog, terribleminds: “Flash Fiction Challenge: Subgenre Frankenstein”. Of the 20 subgenres he lists, pick two at random (link to random number generator included on his site, or use d20) and write a flash story of up to 1500 words.
My randomly picked numbers: 1 & 18 = Dystopian Young Adult Kaiju. Someone else picked Southern gothic fairy tale.
Sounds fun? Sounds fun! Have at it.
I have neglected you, blog and blog readers. My brain has been deconstructing and considering, applying (aka working), and (hopefully) integrating the wealth of knowledge regarding all things writing I accumulated at Odyssey Writing Workshop. The inestimable Jeanne Cavelos and my wonderful classmates, my Odfellows, taught me more than I imagined possible.
Thanks to all those wonderful people I have solidified and accepted that writing is of highest priority. I have also learned that submitting is a part of that process called writing. = I write, no matter what. I submit work, no matter what. And then I write some more.
I brought back this stack of papers, plus all the critiques and journal entries on my computer, plus the ephemerals kept in my brain.
That’s what I’ve been processing, and will continue to process for, I’d guess, at least the next year.
Which is why I haven’t written on this blog. One of Odfellows, the author J.W. Alden, wrote an excellent post, Growth: The Odyssey Debriefing in which he describes the amazing, supportive environment that Jeanne and our fellow classmates created. The amount of information on the craft of writing, and the specific feedback on our own writing, and the information on the process of writing and how unique that is for everyone. . . all of it great, and all of it needing to be processed. My brain is full.
As I’m sure you can imagine, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in my library writing and reading and writing some more. Let me tell you–chipmunks are the loudest *@!% critters! Oh. My. God. One lives in the backyard and every single morning it cheep cheep chirp chips away outside my window. Here’s the little . . . LOUD. INCESSANT. LOUD. Did I mention they’re loud, because they are.
Here are some other, less loud things to be found in the yard:
I’ll keep the blog updated with progress reports on my writing, submitting, and the acceptances when they arrive. When I read a good book, I’ll let you know. When I epiphanize, I’ll try to convert those thoughts into words and share. And I’ll let you all know how much noise that one little chipmunk can emit. (A lot.) But my priority will be writing, revising, giving and receiving critiques with my Odfellows, and submitting.
Thus, back to my writing I go.
And, yes, it happens. I know because I’m in the throws of it myself. Here’s my response to that phenomenon:
“Yay for amazing workshops and learning! Argh to the process of internalizing and applying what we learn. That’s the rough and tumble part learning. What too few people tell us is that learning is an act, meaning we must be *active* participants, and as anyone who has ever worked on a farm or in the garden, or who has cleaned the house and cooked Thanksgiving dinner, or who has framed a house knows, actively learning, internalizing, and applying information is hard work! So too with writing.
I’m back from Odyssey two weeks now and I am beginning to quiet my internal editor who through the six weeks of Odyssey has gained way too much power and knowledge for her own good (okay, not really, it’s just that she’s quicker to pick up the info than my internal writer is at applying that same information). Now is the time for my writer to flex some muscle and work through that information. Editor needs to step back and not hamper writer’s progress!
OMG, yes–the trouble of describing emotions of a character without writing about her damned eyes! There is much too much blinking and flashing of eyes going on
Best of luck integrating information and transforming it into knowledge! Tell your internal editor she can take a vacation until the drafts are done and then she can have it, constructively of course or she gets kicked out.”
Your prose has a texture, this wonderful quality of sepia flooded by warm light. Mine, well mine is cold and bare bones, a half-scraped white. My writing has no subtlety – everything shows in the antiseptic lighting: the rivets and seams, every dent and imperfection. How to create that atmosphere I breathe when I read your work, that wandering through breaking light so palpable I feel it brush my skin. Its sighing warms my bones. I shiver. I unfold. How to write that tone, redolent, everywhere, like a morning mist: the other world of imagination peeking through, but upon closer inspection it was just a shadow, a nodding flower, a bird taking flight. Yet, that glimmering in the shifting light leaves me wondering.
[Want to know what I mean about Sofia’s writing? Here’s Sofia’s blog; her gorgeous prose enchanted novel, A Stranger in Olondria, through Small Beer Press; recently published poem, “Undoomed“, and an interview at Ideomancer; her “Snowbound in Hamadan” in Stone Telling (which she read at the Open Secrets Poetry Reading at Wiscon37); her “Burnt Lyric” in Goblin Fruit; among many other things…]
I’ve been keeping a secret. I want to share it with you all now that I know it is real.
I’m going to Odyssey!
OMG. I’ve told some people close to me and I didn’t wake up from any dream, and Jeanne Cavelos didn’t email to rescind the offer, and I didn’t get hit by a truck.
In response to a post I wrote last autumn wherein I worried about my decision to write Sofia and Rose left comments that helped me move forward. They gave me honest encouragement and good advice.
Rose wrote: “I hope that you will keep writing. Yes, it is painful. Yes, the demon/inner critic is never far away. Yes, you will probably not feel good about the process for a long time yet.
Yes, your writing is worthwhile. Yes, what you say is important. Yes, it is worth working on. It is hard to believe that things improve, but they do. It took me five years of practice and despair to sometimes feel that I am a bit better. I think the key for me was to learn to accept stories as they come, and the fact that they come even though I am a flawed vessel. It is not in me to continuously reject them, so all I can do is work on the vessel.”
And Sofia wrote: “Keep fighting for what you really want. You have to make space for it, mentally, before anything else.”
Their comments reminded me of the quote: “By the side of the everlasting Why, there is a Yes.” I needed to hear that “yes” – that I heard it from two writers I admire greatly was like hearing the birds chirping and singing while I witnessed the dawn – another dimension of affirmation. It helped that Rose acknowledged the pain.
And I am reminded of the poem “God Says Yes To Me” by Kaylin Haught.
And so with the acceptance to Odyssey my journey continues to move forward. I had been paddling my way through a shallows, in a way: trying to avoid scrapping the bottom of the boat and getting stuck. With the encouragement of friends and fellow writers I rowed myself to a river. With this acceptance into an esteemed, intense writing workshop I feel like I’m approaching the rapids! Skill, concentration, being present, awareness will get me through. And lots of hard work.
I will have progressed. I am in process. My writing evolves and I along with it.
I told myself I’m going somewhere this summer – wasn’t sure if it was going to be a Clarion workshop, or Odyssey, or the Iowa Writers’ Festival, or Breadloaf, but I was going to go somewhere, damn it. I am going to do this thing – this thing that is forever, ever-changing, and full of the wonder and pain found in life itself. And I am!
For weeks after receiving the acceptance from Jeanne I was ecstatic (still am), and excited to have this opportunity to work hard with other writers (still am), but I was nervous that I would not be good enough. One might ask: who am I to question her judgment?
Well, I am still nervous, but less so. I realize that I have a great deal of influence in how things turn out. I have made (and continue to make) the mental space for my writing, for one. I made the decision to attend a workshop (and look where that got me – to Odyssey!). I can also, you know, write and read and critique and revise and write and read some more. These are all things I do which will affect what I can put into my Odyssey experience and which will affect what I and the other writers get out of it (to put it in simplistic, exchange terminology – which is not how I view the process and experience, but I am tired and these are the words that come to mind. I hope you’ll understand my shorthand).
The other thing that really helped fortify my self-confidence was a call from Clarion letting me know that I was accepted off the wait list. Oh, bittersweet news! I will so apply to Clarion again. This year is for Odyssey.