Three Neato Inspiring Things for Writey Folk

From Flickr user Cali4Beach
From Flickr user Cali4Beach
  • First, Button Poetry. I’m sending you to their foundation page, but there are loads of wonderful, educational, inspiring, well-performed, energetic pieces on their YouTube channel.
  • Next, American Life in Poetry, a free column edited by former US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser. It’s lovingly posted each week, and is a great place to find new poets to read/love/internet stalk.
  • 750 Words is a semi-social online writing experience. It is not for blogging or for writing for public consumption. A lot of people who want to write have told me they’re paranoid about sharing their work, but that they’re at a loss for maintaining accountability. This is a site to help build the discipline to write every day, based on the concept of Morning Pages. You can make friends, get rewards, and have “friends” or writers you follow. Try it free for 30 days, after that it’s $5/month–cheaper than 3 pages a day worth of pens and paper for sure.

Phony, Imposter, Jerk, Poseur, and other nasty names I call myself

From Flickr user Cea, used under Creative Commons attribution license
From Flickr user Cea, used under Creative Commons attribution license

The mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Is it? I’d like to waste that bitch sometimes.

I’d like to extract my mind from myself, the artist’s plague, and shoot her dead. Or strangle her. Or perhaps torture her for a time, like she’s tortured me as long as I can remember; perhaps that would be a more satisfactory end for this piece of me, is it the Id? The Uberself? The built-in cynic with a penchant for the soul squash? My masochistic inner other.

You’re not good enough.

I know.

You never should’ve stopped writing those five years, when your kid was small.

I didn’t. Not entirely. I blogged. Badly. 

It’s too late for you now.

I know. I’ll get my MFA when I’m 34 instead of when I was 29. 34 is practically retirement age when you’re a woman. I should just give up. I’m out of time.

You’re a phony.

I’m very good at tricking people. It’s just because I know a lot of words.

People like you don’t get to do this.

It’s true. I’m a brokeass from a brokeass family. I could never afford the luxury to create, to commit my whole self to what I make. I will always be lesser because I am poor, because I have always been.

Also, you are a mother.

That, too. Mothers’ writing is the worst, nobody cares about dirty nappies and what it really feels like to breastfeed. People care about war.

You will never go to war. Also, you will never publish your essays.

I’m afraid of losing the people in them. The ones who are really important. Much more important than my writing life, my artist’s soul.

The truth

Perhaps it is bold to say that we are all constantly pushing hard against those conversations. I picture myself between two tiled walls, my back against one, my feet flat against the other, pressing till my face is red, till my gut is herniated, till the muscles in my thighs lock and ache. Keeping that sacred space between, the place where I get to breathe deep and free and feel alive because I am making. Perhaps other artists face lesser negative self-talk. Perhaps other artists feel like it is their right to do what they must, to create.

And when I’m feeling rested and healthy and positive, which is more often, I am able to recognize all of that for what it is: fear. Not just fear of failure: fear of judgement, of self, of what happens when we let it out? Does it get lost? Do I get it back? If I let my mind really fruit, the ante will be upped, I will push myself to do better next time.

As it is, everything I write sucks as soon as it is down. The process of printing exponentially increases the suckage. The more I work on it, the better I see it is with my rational mind, the more it sucks. How can I live with everything I write forever and ever, published or in a secret journal or on some disk somewhere or in a drawer, sucking. Letting it out means it sucks. But I can’t keep it in!

And it doesn’t suck. Not always anyhow. If I were left to myself alone, I could never believe that.

So, as much as writing practice is alone, alone, alone; I prize my weird and wacky and mostly long-distance community of other writers and artists. These are the people who’ve helped keep me from lobotomizing that cunt who lives in my mind. The ones who teach me how to quiet her, how to shut her in a room with meditation. These are the people who will read this post and nod and feel recognized. These are the people who help me to know that I do not suck, my writing does not suck, and I have every right to pursue my passion.

So when the self-hatred begins to mushroom and permeate and threaten my very will to live, I remember that awful/wonderful movie, LADYBUGS, and I shout over the din, YOU ARE GREAT! YOU ARE WONDERFUL! EVERYBODY LIKES YOU!

You are, too. What does your self say? What do you tell it? How do you shut it up?

On Writing Like a Motherfucker*

here's my morning joe, super creamy, hold the sugar, but not the Sugar.
here’s my morning joe, super creamy, hold the sugar, but not the Sugar.

I’ve read and heard a lot of writers talk about their relationship with a particular talisman–I forget who has a mug with Gold Letters that spell Writer across it. Some of my friends paste quotations in their writing spaces. Some writers advise the utmost in tidiness, a veritable sensory vacuum, or discomfort, or writing with the lights off, or writing with your back to the monitor, or writing at a treadmill desk.

I’m not overly superstitious, nor am I overly tidy, so This Mug, which I advised you to buy on Monday, has helped me get back on the express line to my draft. I got derailed a bit just before AWP. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve got pages due on Saturday.

It’s okay to get derailed, as long as you remember–sooner rather than later–to get back to writing like a motherfucker.

Strayed & Bassist

To catch you up: Write Like a Motherfucker is a mantra that originated on the Rumpus column “Dear Sugar.”

*It does not escape me, the misogyny inherent in the word Motherfucker, but it strikes me as meaningful especially for that reason, and readable as a colloquailism whose meaning would be more aptly conveyed as “badass” or “person (male or female) of particular bravado.”

Sugar = Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, some other books, once secretly a Rumpus advice columnist, and probably a million other things, too.

Write like a motherfucker is what she advised Elissa Bassist to do. Bassist is a New York dwelling woman writer who wrote to Sugar saying, “how do women become the writers they want to be?”

You can read all about it in the most recent issue of Creative Nonfiction, or online, if you’re cheap or broke.

There, Strayed & Bassist’s conversation is a beacon of hope for writers of both genders: encouraging and witty and funny and warm and delicious, a hamlet of surety–to my mind–that women writers will not always be considered twee and lesser, just because they have vaginae.

Twee is a word I learned at AWP. Go on, look it up. At first I thought the woman who said it was being onomatopoeic. But then I whipped out my M-W app & was assured that she was not.

The most important thing to do is to write. Write like a motherfucker.

I can tell you that I’ve been writing like a motherfucker, the most mothers fucked I’ve ever written like, since January.

I have churned out 160 Manuscript pages (mostly nonfiction, some fiction), maybe 50 of these are recycled or expanded material.

I do not say this to brag. I say this because I have written loads and loads of stuff since I was a small child, so I have always written like a motherfucker by most people’s standards. If I had all of my journals from forever, they would probably stand in a stack to my chest. I can’t imagine the stack of paper if I printed everything I’ve written, every draft I’ve revised.

Now, I’m writing like a motherfucker to my standards. And mine are the only ones that matter.

My point is that you can always up your game.

So however much time you spend writing now, double it. Then double that. But don’t freak out if you get off the track a little bit, or if you have to take a day off. Take it, then get back to it.

Remind yourself, as often as you have to, to Write Like a Motherfucker.

Get the T-shirt, or a mug. A talisman. Or clean your writing space till it looks like an ascetic monk lives there. If you write best when you’re doing a yoga pose, do that. If you need to engineer a device by which you can hang by your feet from the ceiling, do that. If you love those quiet morning hours as I do, before everybody starts to need you, get up early.

Any writers reading want to share their talismans or rituals? Advice? Words to the wise?

Shit Got Real or One Bite At a Time

I’ve been writing this post in my head for a while.

Been wanting to give you and me a break from the memoir drafting stuff.

From flickr user MrsDKrebs
From flickr user MrsDKrebs

It is hard, hard, hard to be in self-examination mode, and to stay there, and to stay sane. I spent a lot of last week weeping. Part of it is I was half sick, but I’m feeling good today, forward momentum for the first time in like nine days.

It doesn’t usually take me that long to get it back.

I’ve learned some shit about myself and some of it ain’t easy to deal with. And none of it is easy to accept responsibility for. But at the end of all of this, I hope I’ll be a better person.

But that’s not what I mean by Real.

What I mean is that I am finally, finally, finally actualizing. I have been thinking about myself as a writer since I was a kid. But I have spent an absurd amount of energy and ambition and intellect trying not to be a writer.

And for about the last year, I’ve paid lip service to being a writer, and have been looking for the way home, and have been doing a lot of right things, but somehow missing the mark.

And it’s true that almost no writers get to be only writers. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about centering myself around my sense of myself as a writer.

Doing that helps me to make better choices about all the other things that are compulsory owing to adult responsibilities.

I suddenly do not feel like I’m missing out on some mirage on the horizon if I take an afternoon off, or if I take a long walk for no reason other than to walk, or if I take a day off, or if I just don’t do anything for a little while. I feel like I’m recharging. I feel like I’m getting back to the bricks of the story I’m always writing in my head.

I feel like a writer, I am all right with it. It is the rightest, goodest thing in my life. Owning it is the best thing I have ever done for my mental health.

Yes, Child is superb, but I generally feel like a fuckup of a parent. I am a better writer than I am a mother. I’ve had loads more practice

How I got home:

1. I write every day. My own work. Not stuff I’m getting paid to write, not articles, not blog posts. I make my own art five out of seven days. I view the writing I’m being paid for or the blog as other work, and I do it at a different time of day, and I think of it as separate from my own writing.

2. I read every day. Not shit I’m getting paid to read, shit that helps me be a better writer. Shit that is neither shit, nor uses the word shit as liberally as I have in this blog post.

3. I learned the value of spending time around other writers sometimes. I am giddy, giddy, giddy about going to AWP in like eight days.  I will hear smart people talk about writing for an entire weekend, and if I am brave, I will hunt down writers whose work I like and tell them I like it. I will also get a literary tattoo with my friend, Brooke.

4. I feel comfortable with my sense of myself in a way that is difficult to describe. It is like finding the perfect pair of Jeans? I have spent my life looking for this perfect cut, color, fit, and here they are, and now that I’m wearing them, I never want to take them off? That they make me feel and look so, so fucking good that I am more confident and capable willing to wrestle adversity to the floor? That’s an imperfect analog, because it feels even better than that.

In my next memoir

I will try to figure out how and why I have always known I am a writer, but got the idea that it was an invalid thing to be, or that I could never make any part of a living at it, or that I should try like hell to be something, anything else.

In the meantime, I’ve got about 145 pages out, another ten or so in progress, and ideas for at least a hundred after that, not counting the fleshing-out I’ll do in revision, or all of the trash I’ll make of things I’ve put in that don’t belong. This reminds me of that old joke: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Paydirt:

If you are an artist, be an artist. There are lots of people who will tell you why that’s a damn fool thing to want to be, and they might be right, but you’ll know if you have a choice, and if you don’t, don’t fight it. Just do it. And celebrate it. You won’t be thwarting that central part of yourself, so you’ll do better in all the other parts.

What’s Next? or Why I’ve Been a Shitty Blogger and How I Plan to Change

from flickr user dbking
from flickr user dbking

You probably remember the days when I blogged five days a week.

And I doubt you’ve missed me.

But I’ve missed you.

See, I’m in this grad program for writing. It’s mostly online. I go two times a year for about a week to get my physical learning on, then the rest of the time I read and write about stuff and post it on the internet where classmates and instructors read it.

This is my first drafting semester for my book-length project that will earn me my MA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University.

Next year, around this time, I’ll start a thing known as a “critical paper” that will earn me my MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University.

But I’ve had to shave some stuff down in order to make time for this program, and consistent blogging was the first to go.

But it’s January, right?

time for resolutions and new beginnings and refreshed perspectives.

And I’ve got this great idea.

I’ll be writing for two hours a day on my creative project.

And three times a week, I’m going to post stuff from my journey here.

You can feel free to comment or hate.

It’s not going to be chapters. It’ll be 400-500 words at a slice, edited for the reading habits of screen-lookers.

And it’ll probably often be funny, and sometimes it’ll be sad, and sometimes, it’ll make you scratch your head and go “what the what?”

So I’ll be seeing you on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. EST.

Looking forward to you.

Love.

Saddest Picture In the World + Stuff for you, Cos I Like You.

I took this picture at Trout Run Park

They were just an abandoned pair of Crocs that blended in with the landscape such that I nearly didn’t see them.

Immediately, I started to tell myself the story of the person who used to wear those shoes, how they got there, why there was a ponytail holder just next to them.  The brownness of the scene struck me as sad and serene. And when the picture (that I took with my phone) came out so well, I wanted to share it with you, and to offer you this prompt:

In 500 words or fewer, tell me the story of those shoes.  Do it in the comments.  I’ll repost the really good ones on my blog next week with credit to you, and a link to your blog/social media/whatever; and if you share your email address, I’ll send you a free critique.

An Exciting New Thing

I want to invite you to Writer’s Boot Camp.

It’ll be a mind-bending day of all different sorts of writing activities.  You’ll push your comfort zones, engage in all manner of writing activities and exercises like Weight Training, Gimmie Twenty Words, Gimmie Twenty Sentences, Cross Country Writing, and of course there’ll be a groovy, mind-massaging lunch break.  Show up at 10, leave at 4 with a refreshed or revolutionized sense of yourself as a writer, of writing as a creative act, and some new ideas for getting motivated beyond Boot Camp.

You need a clip board, a few pens or pencils, a notebook or paper (at least 20 sheets), and a brown bag lunch or $5 to chip in on pizza.

The cost is low, $55, and you can pay the day of or via paypal, you’ll get instructions by email when you register.

The spot is Gallery #13 at The Pajama Factory, 1307 Park Ave. Williamsport. I’m teaming up with Susquehanna Life Magazine on this effort.

The first one will be November 4, it’s a Sunday.

You can register here.

Open Letter to Vanity Publishing Crowd

From Flickr User Ian Wilson

Dear Book Writer,

What is your profession?  I’m dying to know.  I will show up there and take over your clients.  I will prescribe their pills or write their briefs or cobble their soles.  I can slice and stitch with the best of them; after all, I took Home Ec.

Or maybe I should show up at your workplace and insist that you show me what you have learned to do over years, what you have paid to learn, and how to do it, free of charge?  Or maybe I should laugh at you when you say that one must diagnose the disease before making the incision?

Here is how we writers become so: We spend years feeling tortured, true or not, and scribbling onto any scrap of paper that’s large enough for a word or two.  We have journals.  We have burned some of them.  We have saved others.  We have many half full, many overfull.  Then we pursued writing-related tasks with vigor, fading into the background in school and work to observe, store up material, notice how people talk and act and are. We have been called odd snobs, different, dangerous, powerful.  We have been taunted and less frequently heralded our “gifts” with the word. Our gift is obsession with the music of language, the ability to tune in.

We have read with quiet abandon.  We have studied the written word, intentionally, osmotically, we find no greater joy than in the annals of another writer’s imagination.  We have allowed others’ voices to inform, infuse our own.  We have studied, studied, and continue to study the story, how it works, when it’s working, when it’s not.  We have made our rookie mistakes in the privacy of our own rooms or in the semiprivacy of our educations, writing workshops, writers’ groups, families, friends, LiveJournals.

We do not insist that these mistakes be proffered publicly. We are not proud of them. We do not hear editors’ rejections or suggestions with scorn for gatekeepers.  We thrive in rejection, we allow it to make us better, we recognize that we may never have success.  We do not write for publication, we write for writing, for self, for art, for work, for pain, for pleasure, for sex.  If we are published, of course we are pleased, but we do not begin with that in mind.  We begin with the word in mind, the story, the sadness, the soul, the voices, the joy around us.

We do not begrudge you your desire to be heard.  But we wish you would stop blabbing so loudly about how unfair the world that does not welcome your scribbling is.  We wish you would remember how you toiled to learn your trade, the one that is not book writing.  We wish you would stop believing that because you can speak you can write.  We wish you would stop thinking of writing as a cash cow.

Please, write.  Please do.  There can never be enough writers.  But before you fire up CreateSpace and start selling your print-on-demand for $24, read.  And read again.  And read until your eyes are dry and shrunken.  Until you’ve read more books than anybody you know.  Then write.  And write long and hard.  Until you’ve logged millions of words, tens of thousands of pages. And once you’ve done these things, you may be surprised how many of those pretentious, self-aggrandizing, gate keeping, nay saying, parade raining editors are willing to reconsider your work.

Love,

A Writer