Blog

Weekly Writing Reflection

Good News, Bad News

The blog section of my author website, here, has been rather quiet lately. Please accept my apology for that! The semester started about five weeks ago and teaching five courses (four in composition!) is quite the load. Between course preparation, grading essays, and attending countless committee meetings, service opportunities, and etc., I’m still amazed that I manage to find time to do anything else.

That being said, I have been trying to keep up with my writing, somewhat. I use physical journals most of the time, at least for musings and idea generation, which is why not much has appeared here. I also developed an online writing group which got started on September 1st. My first contribution went through last week and the feedback that I did receive (only three out of eight members responded, unfortunately) was mostly positive. I received some great thoughts and suggestions, too, particularly about where things can be cut in order to get to the point, and where things are confusing (the conclusion, which I knew I was struggling with!)

Despite being mostly stalled on major writing goals, however, I have received two pieces of good news: publications! In the last week, two of my pieces of creative nonfiction have been accepted for publication. The first, “I Still Believe in Words” will be appearing at Brave Voices Magazine in mid-October. The second, “Five Years, Thirty: A Reflection,” is being anthologized in a print edition titled, Emerging Writers: An Anthology of Nonfiction. That title will be available on October 30th.

I also recently submitted a more experimental piece of short/flash fiction, and I’m hopeful for another acceptance (of course, my track record shows, as most writers’ records probably do, that the rejections far surpass the acceptances.) Still, I’m very proud of this piece; it is, I think, a provocative statement on racism, abuse of power, and immigration in the United States. It took a long time for me to get it “right,” at least as far as I’m concerned, so I hope someone else finds it interesting enough to share with an audience.

Anyhow, if nothing else, my two recent publication acceptance emails have truly stoked my writing flame, as it were. I get so bogged down in the day-to-day that, much of the time, I forget to do what it is I need to do, which is to write. Hearing from publishers who think your work has value and meaning does much to reinvigorate the spirit! Onward!

Advertisements
Weekly Writing Reflection

Routine is Hard. Fear is Real.

I’m having such a difficult time finding a routine for myself, where writing is concerned. I did a pretty decent job, all summer, of organizing the majority of my days in order to find time for work, exercise, and reading/journaling, but I never managed to stick to my promised intentions for writing hours.

That will have to change, though, as two things become more pressing: first, my need/desire to get more serious with my writing; second, the commencement of my “Writing Together Writer’s Group,” which is set to begin on September 1st. How can I participate in, let alone lead, a writing group if I’m not prioritizing my own writing?

One future calendar consideration that actually leaves me feeling somewhat positive is the fact that I have only 5 classes this coming semester instead of the 6 I had in the Spring (let’s hope that stays true!) In addition, two of them are online, meaning I have just 3 on campus (one of which is a literature course which, while still time consuming, is not as time consuming as composition courses re: grading, especially.) This means I have four heavy-work load classes plus one medium-load, instead of six heavy-load.

I’ve also set my schedule for mid-day classes, because I’m not a morning person. Last semester, the sixth class that was added to my schedule very late also happened to be an 8am course. That literally knocked me out of the game for the entire semester because I simply do not function if I have to get up at 5am. I have tried for months to make mornings my writing time, getting up an hour or two earlier than necessary in order to have my undisturbed time, but even this doesn’t work, despite the fact that it is voluntary and something I look forward to, rather than an “imperative” like teaching a class, on which I can’t just skip out.

So, there are some considerations still to be made regarding my own personal schedule, but I’m hoping that my work load and work schedule for the semester will make things a bit easier/more functional. I’m also thinking ahead to Spring 2019 and have designed what I think will be an even more conducive schedule. I need to fit in other professional responsibilities, like service and conferences, too, so that’s something else that needed to be considered.

Anyway, those things are getting better slowly but surely, and as I get more experience with different types of course loads/teaching schedules, I learn what’s actually best for me. That’s only the first part of the issue, though. The second part is deciding what I should be writing. I’ve been torn, lately, between long-form fiction (contemporary adult and/or young adult novel) and creative non-fiction/essay. Most of my experience and comfort is in the latter, but my desire, lately, has been to write the former. I’ve had an idea for a novel in my head for two months, and I started jotting down a number of ideas in my little notebook. It’s the book I feel I should write, but considering I’ve never written much fiction before, I’m fearful. This fear is what, more than anything, is keeping me from creating a successful routine.

I’m afraid that nothing will come out, or that what does come out will be terrible. And so I refuse to begin. This had been subconscious for quite some time, but I’ve realized recently that it is the reality. Now the big question is, how to overcome it? The simplest answer is, of course, “just sit down and do it!” But has that ever really worked for anyone? I mean, really? Fear is a more difficult thing than we like to acknowledge. I refuse to remain crippled by it, but I also refuse to underestimate it or to treat myself like some nonplussed hero.

Hero or not. At a certain point, the avoidance has to stop.


All work found on adamburgesswriter.com is copyright of the original author and cannot be borrowed, quoted, or reused in any fashion without the express, written permission of the author.


Uncategorized

Prompt: The Sound of Your Language

Today’s writing prompt comes from Ursula K. LeGuin. It is titled, “The Sound of Your Language – Being Gorgeous.” The task is to write a paragraph (up to a page) of narrative that’s meant to be read aloud. Use onomatopoeia, alliteration, repetition, rhythmic effects, or whatever kind of sound effect you like, avoiding rhyme and meter.

Exercise:

For many, being in the desert begets a special, spiritual kind of beauty: to bathe in the baking sun; to gaze at the silky shelf of stars; to hear the tones and movements of critters and crawling things going about their tasks in the dry-parched earth and sand. But Nathan lived in the desert. He did not love it.

So, while dreamers and poets, Midwestern fantasy-lovers and romantics, fantasized of desert sunsets and philosophized on the pure and ancient beauty of the cacti and the palms, Nathan simply lived among it all.

To wish upon a star. To walk the wash. To smile at shaded parking spots and the rare, cool breeze as it comes tumbling down Spring Mountain and into the valley. To worship water, and obey it. These were the sacred things, and the ordinary things.

Reflection:

This is perhaps the setting for my current WIP. I’m wondering why the name “Nathan” came out while writing, when I’ve been struggling with character names for months. I don’t think this is the right name, after all, as I want it to be more “gorgeous” and intentional. A name should mean something, right? (Uriah Heep. Jane Eyre, etc.) But this one worked here, for now. The exercise in general was enjoyable. It reminds me of reading like a writer. The sound and rhythm are important because, after all, readers “hear” these (in their own voices) when they are reading, even if reading silently. I don’t often enough think consciously about the sound of my writing; it is something I tend to create naturally and then correct on re-reading, as needed. But thinking about it as I’m creating the sentences and scenes seemed helpful, even powerful. It sure slowed me down, though.


All work found on adamburgesswriter.com is copyright of the original author and cannot be borrowed, quoted, or reused in any fashion without the express, written permission of the author.


 

Uncategorized

A New Perspective

scrooge-dickens.jpg

For the last few years, I have been working toward a shift in focus on this blog and in my life in general. I’ve wanted to spend more time writing, but from 2014-2016, I was working on my dissertation and that provided almost more writing than I could handle! Needless to say, I didn’t do a whole lot of work on other projects, save for a scribble or two here and there, to jot down ideas or get started. Lately, though, I have been putting much more structured focus on writing and trying to get into a writer’s mentality. This has meant that my reading output (or input?) has dropped, leaving me with less to say and do here on the blog. My reading hasn’t stopped altogether—that would be insane—but the types of reading I’m choosing has changed, and the pace at which I’m reading has slowed. This is also partly due to my profession as a college English educator who is constantly grading essays. You do 50-100 of those a week and, well, you don’t want to read much afterward!

So, I’ve been trying to decide what to do with the blog in order to keep up a regular presence and also make it “make sense” with my shift in reader/writer focus. I debated with the idea of shutting it down altogether, but this blog has been with me for nearly a decade. I love it and it doesn’t feel right, at the moment, to close up shop. It might continue to evolve into something else as I spend more and more time writing, but isn’t that okay, too? At this time, I’ve decided to keep posting short reviews of books when I want (I’ve got a couple more on deck, in fact: Stephen King’s The Outsider and Bella Forrest’s The Breaker), but I will also include some WIP and general writing progress updates, perhaps once per week. I’m completing a miniature self-guided “MFA” program for writers, and one of the suggestions made in the program is ACCOUNTABILITY. This means setting a writing goal and then holding yourself accountable for what you did or did not do.

I had always heard that you should never talk about your writing, you should just write, so I was a little surprised to hear about this strategy; but, like anything else, I do think it makes sense that you are much more likely to do the work if you’re not doing it entirely in secret, where there are no expectations or repercussions for laziness, slacking, and skipping. This also means my mentality and online presence have shifted/are shifting from primarily reader-centered to writer-centered.

There are a number of other suggestions from the program that I plan to follow, and I want to outline them briefly, here, as a baseline for myself (and if there are any other writers out there who read this and want to connect, great!) and to help me set up some kind of template that I can use for weekly WIP updates. The general content areas are: Write with Focus; Read with Purpose; Build Your Community.

Write with Focus

As far as I can tell, there are three very important elements to writing with focus.

The first is to write. All the time. Every day, and in whatever fashion. It might mean journaling, it might mean writing craft exercises (like responding to prompts), and it might mean working on a specific WIP project, whether outlining, character mapping, or actual manuscript work. I’ve made some progress on this daily writing component, including jotting down a lot of notes for my upcoming WIP (still in invention stage, but I’m getting there), journaling regularly, and working on craft elements with Ursula K. Le Guin’s Steering the Craft. Soon, I will also start work on the actual WIP, which I will need to schedule into my days, and that brings me to the next part.

The second is to control your environment and set the mood for success. This is something I teach my writing students; they must pay attention to their environments, what works and what doesn’t, and make conscious decisions about where and when they are doing their work, and what else needs to happen in that atmosphere (music or other background noise? Lighting? Snacks? Etc.). The MFA guide suggests trying to set an environment and work with it for a while, and then slowly make one adjustment at a time until everything feels “right.” It may last forever, it may need to be adjusted again at some point but controlling the environment so that your mind knows that when it is “x” time and “y” environment is set, that means it is writing time. I have made almost no progress with this component! For weeks, I’ve been setting my alarm to get up early so that I can spend two hours of my morning writing, before any of the other pressures/responsibilities of the day start to move in. And for weeks, I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night and turning the alarm off. I’m not sure if morning writing is for me (in fact, I’m positive that I write best at night), but given the nature of my daily life, I feel like I have to find a way to make this work because, otherwise, my own writing just won’t happen. I’ll get caught up in everything else that I need to do, including my profession. I do at least have some ideas in mind about what my writing situation will look like. I have a private room. I have a desk set up with my row of writing-related texts facing front and center. I have my notes and ideas books nearby, and a candle to light to trigger the “mood.” I think I’m mostof the way there. What’s keeping me from starting? At first, I figured it was laziness or the fact that I have severe insomnia. Since I get very little sleep, it’s extremely difficult to get up earlier than absolutely necessary; but there’s the kicker: I have to recognize that getting up to write is necessary, just like every other necessary part of my day. I have not made that turn yet.

The third component to writing with focus is understanding the process. Even as a professional writer and writing instructor, I fall prey to the idea that if I can’t get it “right” right away, then I must be doing something wrong. I KNOW this is utter nonsense. I spend hours every week reassuring my own students that they are not failures for trying and that, in fact, the only failure is in not doing anything at all. So, to write with focus, I need to remind myself that a first draft is just that – a dump. A place to get everything out. Then the fixes come in, and I can and should take those fixes one at a time, focusing on one particular element and then another and then another, rather than doing a line-edit approach to the entire thing. This MFA program is giving me clear ideas of how to strategize the revision process so that it makes sense and so that, ultimately, I revise the most critical elements first, leaving each subsequent phase a little less demanding. These are some tips I would not have realized had I not began this focused study.

Read with Purpose

The next suggestion from this MFA program is to “read with purpose,” and again there are a few components to this instruction.

Read Your Genre

The first element is to “Read Your Genre.” This is another instruction I found contradictory at first. Essentially, what they mean is that you should read a lot of the genre you plan to write in, be it young adult fiction, science fiction, personal essay, memoir, etc. I had always been under the impression, though, that you wanted to avoid reading your own genre while writing in it because you might be subconsciously influenced by your reading, which could lead to borrowing or copying. I’m still concerned with that, quite frankly, so I think I’ve come up with a way to read within the genre but avoid the possibility for influence. First, most of my pleasure reading during the actual writing of a WIP will be from outside the WIP’s genre. At the moment, for example, I’m working in contemporary fiction of a particular theme, so I’m reading mostly non-fiction (history, philosophy). This keeps my reader-personality satisfied and my brain actively engaged, but limits the potential for me to be influenced by other stories, characters, etc. I might still end up working in some elements of my reading into the WIP, but it would be in a completely different way, such as incorporating a type of philosophical statement or lesson which I would still need to build into the story world or into the character’s development. I’m finding this kind of an interesting, even fun, activity. The other way I’m going about this is to read within the genre when I am outside of the WIP-writing phase. So, during pre-writing or when I’ve put away the first draft and am letting it sit, or when I am working on revisions and edits. Once my own complete work is out, there’s not much chance that I’ll go back and rework entire scenes or characters simply because I’m reading something awesome in another book. This will keep me engaged with my genre (what works? What doesn’t? What’s cliché? What’s novel?) while in the process of writing inside that genre. A final suggestion the MFA program makes, and which I plan to also adopt, is to read in the genre but of other forms. So, for example, if I’m writing a contemporary novel, I can spend my reading time on short stories. This would still let me read for plot, character, story arc, etc., but in much smaller chunks. In this way, I would also be able to see the full development of a story in a single sitting and take it apart for how and why it is working, or not. In many ways, this is beneficial over novel-reading, which takes much longer and cannot be seen in “snapshot” form.

Read the Craft

Another component of reading with focus is to read other writers on the craft. There are a few reasons for this, some of which include the following: continuously engaging in intellectual conversation with other writers through my reading/responses; getting ideas about what has and has not worked for other writers, and trying it all out; learning how to deal with setbacks, apparent failures, distractions, challenges, etc. by seeing what other writers have to say on these subjects; and treating myself as one among these writers who I admire, getting to know them not just as writers but as people who also had/have lives that needed to be lived, responsibilities that had to be kept, etc. This is one part of the process that I have already begun, and it is probably my favorite part (no surprise as a reader who likes to write, I love reading what other writers have to say about writing?). At the moment, for example, I’m reading the MFA craft book as well as Le Guin’s Steering the Craft. I give myself an hour every night with one or the other of these books, including journaling my reactions to them and incorporating notes for my own WIP based on what I’ve read in the craft texts. I have a number of these “on deck,” of various types (from The Emotional Craft of Fiction to Book in a Month to Light the Dark), as I think it is important to look at writing from a variety of angles, whether that be pacing, character, memoir, creativity, inspiration, language, or whatever else.

Read Like a Writer

The final element suggested for how to read with purpose is to read like a writer. The MFA guide shares some helpful tips on how to engage with texts, including writing book reviews (yes!), doing short critical analyses of small portions of the texts, responding to entire genres after reading many texts within them, or responding to a favorite author’s corpus after reading much of it. All of these strategies are interesting and helpful in different ways, and I plan to try them at varying points. Some, like responding to a genre or to an author’s corpus, will be much longer projects taking quite a bit of time, but they certainly seem like valuable pursuits to me. I write book reviews regularly, of course, so that will remain a staple. And I spent 9 years of college and graduate school writing critical analysis papers on literature, so while I’m not exactly “eager” to return to the student role, I do understand and respect the benefits of doing this and, who knows, I may come up with some interesting essays that can move beyond my own little journal.

Build Your Community

The third and final element of “living like a writer” is to build a community that will fulfill the needs of Critique, Accountability, Support, and Advice or Apprenticeship. I don’t really know where to begin with this part, yet. I’m not sure if I would work best with an online community of writers or a local, in-person group. I don’t know who to ask or how to work with them. I’m essentially nowhere with this component, unfortunately, but I know that as I get further into my work, I’m going to need this. So, if you’re a writer reading this right now and you, too, are looking for a writing community, perhaps we can become that for each other.

Taking all of this into consideration, the next step is to come up with a way to hold myself accountable and to track (and applaud or reassess) my accomplishments from week-to-week. I have a “Goal Sheet” which is provided by the DIY MFA book, and that I think will serve my purposes pretty well. Ultimately, I hope to write 6 days a week (is that too much? Too little? I have no idea.) Each day will carry a goal of 2-hours writing and/or 4-pages (is this too much? Too little? I have no idea!). The way I plan to respond to each writing session is as follows:

  • Date:
  • Input Variable:
  • Words:
  • Time:
  • How It Felt:

Most of those should be pretty self-explanatory, but a note on “Input Variable.” This is something I mentioned above, regarding “controlling your environment.” This is something that might change after a few weeks’ of trying it. For example, writing at home versus writing somewhere public. Writing in the morning versus writing at night. Writing with music versus without, etc. It is important to set the environment intentionally and then, every so often, make a change if the current environment is not working (but make just one change at a time, and try it for at least 2-3 weeks before changing again).

My plan now is to post once per week with the above WIP Goal Sheet. At the moment, I’m thinking of referring to it as simply “Writing Reflection.” I might also keep a spreadsheet of this information on my computer for easy access and filtering/sorting. The public accountability aspect is apparently important, though, so as I set goals and make progress, accounting for that process, for the misses, for the lulls and the over-achieving days, will be part of the “Weekly Writing Reflection.”



All work on adamburgesswriter.com is copyright of the original author and cannot be borrowed, quoted, or reused in any fashion without the express, written permission of the author.