Tuesday, November 29, 2011
This week I am taking some time off from my day job to take back - and revel in - my increased mental space, to make progress on my writing goals (just like a self-employed writer without a day job might), and at the end of each day - satisfied with my increased productivity and sense of calm - rest peacefully and sleep well.
I am on day two of this experiment and it is going well. I have been getting up around 5:30 to allow myself two hours of silence before my children have to get ready for daycare and school. I enjoy the 1.5 hour break as we dress, eat, watch a bit of "The Sound of Music", and then head out the door together (knowing I don't have to then commute downtown!). We sit in the car as it warms up and chant "5-4-3-2-1 - blast off!" before we roll back out of the driveway, at which point my son begins to make rocket ship noises, which sound a little like raspberries or a gushing geyser. Then it's back home by 9:00 am with a longer stretch of day with which to work on those writing goals. Heaven. I am on my own until mid-afternoon, when the after school/daycare chaos begins.
I know when this week is over, I will be mourning its loss. Normally I am not home until 7:00 pm and I miss the afternoon chaos, substituting it with the internal chaos of being somewhere else, and leaving my partner to deal with the kids until my train rolls in each night. We are a happier, more balanced family for having me at home in the afternoon, for having time to take a walk, spell each other off so we can get a few things done, or just be spontaneous. Life was much more in balance when I was on mat leave, and the past two days have confirmed what I've been feeling for a while: that I have to find a way to work from home a few days a week, stat. Not just to focus on my writerly skills (be they proofreading and editing, which I already do on a freelance basis, or writing for big(ger) money), but to get my life back in balance. The tarot says it looks good, so I'm going to believe it because I must.
Since my last post I have taken on a new role as a contributor to Thrifty and Green magazine - an online publication with eco values and tips on saving money. I have enjoyed writing and publishing a couple of articles on the saving money end of things. One is on the subject of bartering, and one is on how to make inexpensive, green (and tasty) Christmas gifts in the form of peppermint bark! The magazine is beautifully designed and inspiring, and I hope to have a few more articles about saving money published on this site by the end of the year. I'm also very pleased that my holiday candy article will be featured in the upcoming digital edition of the magazine. (The current edition of the magazine can be found here). If you enjoy the magazine, you can subscribe to the magazine for free on the T&G site.
Last year at this time I made for myself a schedule of submission deadlines for various publications and contests for 2011, in order to make some writing goals and stay on track with them. Revisiting my list has made me realize that a year has somehow flown by and it's time to make a new one! But it also helped me to see quite clearly the progress I made in one year - the year I decided to take my writing seriously and commit myself to it to the greatest extent I could at this time.
The Official Nicole Breit 2011 Year of Writerly Undertakings
* Wrote "For Tristan: A Meditation on Loss, Grief and Healing" and submitted to the Mostly for Mothers call for submission for a miscarriage anthology.
* Rejection letter from The Malahat Review for a series of poems I submitted in August 2011.
* Submitted an acrostic story entitled "Applying Grandmother's Advice" to the Brucedale Press' annual contest (but didn't win!)
* Submitted seven new poems to Event Magazine
* Published five articles at hubpages.comhttp://nicolebreit.hubpages.com/
* Published three articles at hubpages.com
* Published five articles at hubpages.com
* Won hubnugget award voted by readers for "Day Trips from Vancouver, Canada"
* Published three articles at hubpages.com
* Published three articles at hubpages.com
* Published five eHow.com articles for Demand Media Studios
* Submitted my poem "Me, Again" to the Pandora's Collective spring contest
* Submitted my poem "God of Fire" to the Burnaby Writer's Society annual themed contest
* Received an honourable mention for my poem, "Me, Again" in the Pandora's Collective spring poetry contest
* Began work on a collection of poems for the Mary Ballard poetry chapbook competition
* Continued to work on I Can Make Life poems
* Finalized and submitted my poetry chapbook manuscript, I Can Make Life, to the Mary Ballard poetry chapbook competition, hosted by Casey Shay Press
* Submitted my poem "Three Ways of Looking at the Man who Stepped Down onto the Tracks" to the Pandora's Collective summer poetry contest
* Received an honourable mention for my poem, "The God of Fire" in the annual contest hosted by the Burnaby Writer's Society. One of the judges was BC poet, Peter Trower
* Rejection letter from Event magazine for poems I submitted in January 2011
* Launched my website at www.nicolebreit.com
* The Sound of Silence: Journeys Through Miscarriage published
* Received an honourable mention for my poem "Three Ways of Looking at the Man who Stepped Down onto the Tracks" in the Pandora's Collective summer poetry contest.
* Announced as a semi-finalist for the Mary Ballard poetry chapbook prize
* Announced as one of three finalists for the Mary Ballard poetry chapbook prize (winner to be announced in early 2012).
I enjoyed the process of writing every piece I spent time on this year, and everything I learned. While my work wasn't accepted every time I submitted something, all successes and failures amount to the same thing: progress! In the new year my goals are to write more creative non-fiction (and hopefully finish one or two works in progress in time to enter them in CBCs literary prizes, deadline February 1, 2012) - and to focus on a secret project that I hope will be both fun and profitable...
For all of those who also write for their lives, all best wishes for you and your writing in the coming year. I have a feeling it is going to be a good one.
Friday, November 4, 2011
This week I learned that my poetry chapbook, I Can Make Life, was selected as one of three finalists for the Mary Ballard poetry competition. This week also marks a change in my self-perception: I truly felt like a real writer for the first time, and not just an imposter.
The announcement was made on the Casey Shay Press blog on November 1st. I didn't sleep well that night, partly wondering, as I had been the past week, if my book would make the cut - one of many competing thoughts swirling in my mind this past stressful week. I decided to stop fighting sleep, to give up and get up, and see if at 4:00 am PST the results were posted. They were! I prepared for disappointment, scrolled down the post and assumed that the three finalists were listed alphabetically. I saw Mary Stone Dockery's name. Nope, I didn't make it. Scrolled down further and with bleary eyes saw my name - the finalists were listed alphabetically by book title! On the heels of a week of anxiety about failure and success (in almost equal measure), followed by the thrill of being one step closer to a book deal meant I surely wouldn't sleep now. So I worked at my computer until it was time to wake my kids and get them ready for daycare and school.
I learned something about myself as a writer this past week. That the success I've had so far with this little book only adds more feelings of pressure. The phenomenon that applies to bullies can also be applied to artists: the bigger they are, the harder they fall. It was an almost unbearable feeling this past week - certainty that my book wouldn't make the next cut, interspersed with moments of hope, then cut down by knowing that while there was a plan B for the book, it would take much more effort to get it out into the world - and additional energy and time are at an all time short supply these days and the many forseeable days ahead.
I had to ask myself...am I cut out for the life of a writer with all this roller coaster activity in my psyche? I suppose I've never dealt with this type of angst because although I've been writing poems and various types of creative non-fiction for twenty years, until this year I hadn't really shown it to anyone who may accept or reject it. It's a new experience to put something you care so much for out in the world and then let it go, come what may. Even on a relatively small (but no less important) scale.
In a situation where your creative work, filled with your heart and soul, has some potential to bring you some return (and ultimately I believe creative work should be accessible to all but also bring return to the artist - a complicated dilemma fit for a book of its own)...and in times where all resources at hand feel like they are shrinking around you: mental space, time, energy, money - much is at stake.
I am at a point in my life where I have to make really judicious decisions about where and how to spend my time and energy. More poems? A swept floor that, for the love of my family, doesn't look like the floor of a barn? Less satisfying efforts to raise much needed funds to cover daycare and living costs in the most expensive city in the country for the next four years? I feel like a person who has newly discovered herself, her own potential, and found within the flame that wants to keep burning towards that potential - but frustratingly can't to a satisfactory degree for a number of competing and equally compelling factors. There is momentum, but crazy-making obstacles. As always, the timekeeper is there hovering, saying now or never, time is short, this is what you are here for. But my inner accountant, and my responsibility as a parent in particular, keeps asking, "but how, but how, but how the rest?"
So now I truly do know what it is to be a writer of any stripe. I'm glad I'm here along with the rest; I truly feel privileged to garner any attention at all with the words I commit to paper and feel compelled to revisit and rework until they become something more than the sum of their parts. It is an honour, and it is wonderful to finally see myself as one of the pack. A gift I am humbled to accept.
Every day I am finding my way on this path. I had the pleasure of meeting up with an acquaintance I only knew in passing in high school, but reconnected with recently at my twenty year reunion; she is in the word game, too, as an article writer and editor, and knows all too well the balance of trying to make ends meet while pursuing a passion for words. This week I also received my first email via my new website, from the International Women's Writing Guild - an invitation into the fold. The IWWG found me on the list of finalists for the Mary Ballard poetry prize, then my website, and sent me my first official "you are a real writer" email...The world opens up with these new and inspiring connections.
Upon discussing writing and publishing with my highschool friend, a new/old realization this week: that I really do need to pursue my interest in creative non-fiction. There are many opportunities in this emerging genre - a genre which really appeals to me as someone with what the brilliant Margaret Laurence once called "a fiction writer's memory". I have many details to access in my memorybank, many ideas, many stories, and the will to make them become what they want to become. I have written so many poems in the past few years because with time being so short, I can start and finish quickly. Now, though, it may be time to expand, in tiny baby steps, start to finish. So for now, to start, no matter how small a start I can make, and to brave further ahead. Come what may.
Monday, October 17, 2011
Today I finally launched what I call my "writer website" at nicolebreit.com.
I think of my site more as a a landing pad than a launching pad: the place where people who may already be interested in my writing can go to find out a bit more about the person who holds the pen.
Putting the site together was both easy and difficult. The easy part was coming up with a concept and finding a photographer and make up artist to make me convey something specific in the photos, which were to be an essential element of the site. The imagery was conceived to serve as a kind of portal, to lead the viewer to each page - the photos creating a feeling or mood or scene that described as much or more about the writer and the writing than the non-visual content. Creating the photos was fun, and again I would like to thank Alexis Desaulniers-Lea for working with me on each and every idea and whim that came to my mind, and bringing amazing ideas and inspirations of her own. The profile photo on this blog is testament to her talent. Tiffany Morton also needs to be acknowledged for making me look good - and also for being game for anything I wanted to do to create the image of who I am when I write.
The difficult part was curiously enough the part I am supposed to be good at: writing. Writing about yourself is hard, but writing about yourself as though you are a special kind of person, an artist, is much harder. In the end I decided to abandon the general formula followed by other writers, in part because the formula was not working for me. I am short on credentials and recognition and rich with photos, which is the opposite of what writers with websites seem to have.
Of course, there are credentials, and there are credentials. What *are* the credentials for being a writer? Writing has been something I have done and have kept doing for a very long time. It might be the thing I do best of all. But only recently have I decided to pursue traditional paths of "sharing" vis-a-vis established avenues of publication. So what do I say to convince anyone who lands on my site that I actually am a writer, let alone one worth caring about? Does it matter that I have a degree in English Literature, or that I graduated with distinction? Some of the writers or their publishers think so, and list much about a writer's educational background on their websites. I think the fact that I studied such a variety of courses in my undergraduate days says more about me as a writer than either of my bachelor degrees; that someone with an interest in other languages, visual art, art history and other cultures must possess a general inquisitiveness about the world - a good quality in the kind of person who wants you to believe she might have something interesting to say, or that her scribbles contain an original thought or two.
I decided that it made more sense to create a site that conveys the idea that you can be a writer no matter how much or little you've "accomplished" in the eyes of any established writer-making body. I've sometimes read with wonder and confusion certain pieces that are selected as not just publishable, but more publishable than others. I have come to the conclusion that there are schools and tastes and mandates and biases and budgets at work in every decision made in favour or against a work of art. That this has been the case in every period of history, and likely will be the case going forward until the end of time. How frequently an artist's work is "chosen" or "selected" isn't a measure of the quality of an artist's work, and doesn't decide for the rest of us whether a person is an artist or not; we all know that many artists are simply not recognized in their own time. Listing all the honours I may or may not hold doesn't say much about who I am as a writer or artist, or why you should care about my work.
And so the approach I've taken is to try to reveal something about what I believe about myself as a writer. I tried to make the site an art project and a functional address for a writer's online "home" that is personal, approachable, and also visually expressive and interesting. I wanted to describe myself as someone with a deep passion, experience and maybe a little bit of talent or skill; someone with some recent creative progress on this late blooming path I've begun to walk. In other words, a picture of the literal and spiritual truth of this writer called Nicole Breit.
In the end I hope my site conveys something of the person who made the poems, articles and one day, books that I would like to share. I hope I have succeed in moving somewhere beyond bios written by the first person in the third person, or too much emphasis on who has decided what I write is good or bad or great. That with this site I have moved closer to how or why the writing happens, to something about what goes on inside the heart or soul of the writer. A tall order perhaps, and now that I've written this post I really do hope my own little site meets in some small way my own hopes for what would make any artist's website interesting and noteworthy. If you have feedback on nicolebreit.com, or know of a website that really conveys or demonstrates something truly authentic about another artist or writer, please send it my way.
Sunday, October 2, 2011
It isn't nearly as impossible to believe I haven't updated my blog in two months as I would like it to be. The past two months have seen me working constantly on my writing, pushing ahead with projects based on passion/interest and deadlines. I am managing the balance between work, parenting and my writing life, but there is very little time for much more than that. However, I am truly happy and optimistic. I feel that I am where I am supposed to be at this time in my life, and believe that everything is leading to something.
For much of the spring and most of the summer, I was busy working on my poetry manuscript, which was due August 31st. I worked on it many early mornings and late afternoons while commuting on the West Coast Express, and often late into the evening. Several friends volunteered to read the manuscript in its entirety and provide feedback, for which I am deeply grateful; my poems definitely benefited. In the end I submitted 33 poems, and of those 30 were new, written expressly for the submission (although it is also true that I wrote the poems expressly for me as I had intended to write this very book, with the same title in mind, for quite a while).
Never would I have thought I could have pulled together a chapbook in four months, but the contest was a true motivator...and it turned out everything I needed to write the poems was in there, just waiting for its moment or opportunity. I learned a week or so ago that I was chosen as a quarter-finalist for the poetry prize, and it was announced yesterday on the Casey Shay Press website that my manuscript has moved forward to the semi-finalist stage. Of these 15 manuscripts chosen from the 100 submitted, only three will be chosen for the final round. The three finalists will be announced on November 1, and the winner named sometime in January. I am honoured, excited, and both calm and nerve-wracked about the outcome.
When I was dealing with the grief of reproductive crisis, and in particular, my miscarriage, I searched desperately for a book like the one I have written and submitted to this contest. For some reason, artistic expressions of this experience and its unique and particular grief are not easy to find. I wrote an article about the books, poems, paintings I *was* able to find here, and did my own personal creative project which I've shared here. My hope is that my book will one way or another find its way into the hands of women who need it. In other words, if my book of poems isn't chosen as the winner in January, I am determined to find a way to publish I Can Make Life one way or another in the new year...
Yesterday was the official launch of "The Sound of Silence: Journeys Through Miscarriage" - the Australian anthology described by its publisher, Mostly for Mothers, as "intimate, true, sad, uplifting stories of miscarriage". I received my copy of the book last week in the mail, and will be purchasing some additional copies to sell on my website. I was able to read the book in its entirety months before it was published, and found it both moving and beautifully written - in short, a work I am proud to have been chosen to be a part of. I have been receiving lovely invitations to book launches and promotional events in Australia, which I so wish I could attend! For those interested in learning more about the book, the trailer can be viewed here.
In mid-July, a fellow traveller on the West Coast Express stepped onto the tracks at my station, twenty minutes before I was to arrive to take the next train, and was killed. Several people I know were on that train and felt the impact, saw the reactions of people on the platform, were ushered off the train and in a daze found another way to work. A friend who lives in my neighbourhood takes the train before I catch mine every morning and witnessed the incident first hand. And I, just about to cross the street that morning to the station, was told by a woman in the Coquitlam Centre parking lot that the trains weren't running that morning. Thanks to her, I had just enough time to jump back into the car with my family and get a ride to the Skytrain near my partner's workplace. We heard on the radio that there had been an incident at Coquitlam station and both felt the first feeling of dread. I immediately thought there may have been a shooting, as this is unfortunately commonplace in our area these days. It wasn't until I got to work and one of my colleagues was crying at her desk that I learned that someone had been killed that morning on the tracks at my station.
Witnesses described on various news sites how the man "calmly" put his briefcase down and stood on the tracks seconds before the train entered the station. There was no time for anyone to do anything to prevent his demise. I was deeply affected by this story, in part because I stand on that platform every day, paces from where this man decided to end his life; because it so deeply affected the people I know who were there; and because I felt for the man who, for whatever reasons, made a decision that day that is to most of us so very against our instincts, and would have such a devastating impact on his loved ones.
For me, whether we choose to end our lives or we pass away "naturally", there is something sacred about those final moments, no matter how public they are. I found the reactions of other people to this man's final moments at times curious, judgmental, even appalling. My feelings for days and weeks afterward were intense and complex - and could not be dealt with satisfactorily in conversations. So I wrote a poem, "Three Ways of Looking at the Man who Stepped Down onto the Tracks" over many weeks and finally finished it in time to submit it to the September 15 deadline of Pandora's Collective's Summer Dreams poetry contest. Following the October 15 announcement of winners, I will post the poem on my new website.
In early September I learned that my poem, "The God of Fire", was a finalist in the Burnaby Writer's Society annual contest. In May, writers were provided the theme and this year it was fire. I decided to write about fire as inspiration, in the form of a god whose feet leave burned footprints in the grass, and whose earthly consort- a metalworker who creates amber jewelry "in a shop in the Baltic" - represents for me that Jungian idea of the animus: the one who inspires, and who we unconsciously seek in our gender opposite. For me, that metalworker would be a musician who makes beautiful "amber jewelry" in sound. In the coming year I'd like to put together an assortment of poems, letters, and other writings around the theme of inspiration, music, and the opposite/inspiring other. This particular poem I have sent to those on my mail list, and will post it on my website once it is up and running.
Lastly, but certainly not least I spent a wonderful Saturday afternoon yesterday with two amazing ladies, Ms. Alexis Desaulniers-Lea and Ms. Tiffany Morton. These two are a talented dream team who pair up on weekends to do photography shoots. Tiffany is a Blanche MacDonald graduate who succeeded in making me look ten years younger...or was it five years younger, with Alexis' amazing skill as a photographer taking off the other five? The photo shoot was really an art project, with the elements of each pose planned in advance to convey some aspect of my life as a writer, and/or a feeling of what my work is like. The photos are rich with symbolism - from the images of stars and swallows on my hands, to the heart tattoo on my chest, to the exposure of being photographed in slips, to the coat I'm wearing, that sometimes reveals and sometimes conceals my exposed heart. Tiffany and Alexis' interpretation of my vision for the series were completely in sync with what I wanted to do, and the results are some truly stunning pictures. You can see a selection of the photos when nicolebreit.com is launched in the coming weeks...
Monday, July 25, 2011
These past few weeks my most intense focus has been on writing and re-writing poems that will comprise my first rough draft manuscript, which I hope to complete this week. The manuscript will become a chapbook called I Can Make Life, and will be published sometime next spring.
I have been enjoying my work on the book and watching it transform so dramatically from its inception several years ago, when I started to record some of my experiences as I struggled with fertility issues. I Can Make Life was what I called that collection of small poems on my A Spark in the Universe. At the time, I wasn't sure I was capable of making life at all and the title was self-mocking, though also secretly hopeful. I didn't think at the time I started writing poems like "Bohemian Waxwings" or "Hysterosalpingogram" that these few poems would evolve into a collection of more than thirty. While I hoped my experiences would evolve over time into a larger project and ultimately speak to other women struggling with similar issues, I didn't know when or how that would happen, or dare to imagine what a complete book would look like. Now that I'm almost through the first draft, I'm feeling unburdened, relieved, excited and happy.
One of the most interesting parts of writing on a topic that is so vast and multi-layered is the unexpectedness of the poems which have spontaneously appeared. I started the chapbook with a goal of 23 poems, which expanded into a new goal of 30, and now has exceeded that number (although I haven't decided if all of the poems in progress will be included in the final submission). I began with a loose structure: some titles that were meant as a guide, to ensure I covered all of the aspects of a three year journey I thought were important to include. As time went on, titles got scrapped, loose ideas that I thought would become separate poems were incorporated into pieces that already existed, and entirely new memories and writings emerged.
The current table of contents is incredibly different from the one I started with. As my work on the manuscript has become more frequent, focused and intense, new ideas and inspirations seem to appear daily. I feel like I could continue to incorporate new memories that surface and want to forge themselves into poems well past the deadline of August 31st. But I have to stop somewhere, and that somewhere will be at some point in the next two weeks. My first complete draft will be circulated this week or next week at the latest for feedback from a lovely group of volunteers who have agreed to read my collection and provide feedback - a process I am looking forward to as the input of my readers can only make this effort better and stronger.
The second major project I have been putting much of my time and effort into has been developing the concept and content of a website, which will be launched in early October. I am excited about my ideas and have been planning, scheming, organizing and even sewing in preparation for the photoshoot. I have enlisted the help of some fearsome and awesome talents for my website project, and can't wait to announce the launch of the site when it is ready to see the light of day. I see some clinking glasses in the near future, in celebration of the milestones of this writing year; not least of all a website that is, in my opinion, a major accomplishment for a girl who has known for quite some time that she needs one, but wasn't eager to embrace the work to make it everything she wanted it to be. Unsurprisingly, the girl in question would much rather write for her life than spend time on the equally important work of supporting it...once again explaining the state of this sadly undernurtured blog...
At the end of June I learned that one of my poems, written ten years ago but recently submitted to a contest, received an honourable mention. The list of winners is on the Pandora's Collective website. My submission was a poem called "Me, Again", and is a memory of the magical time when I used to hang out in my parents' basement alone, choreographing dances to Montavani records in my navy blue gymnastics bodysuit. I am currently working on another poem to submit to the Pandora's Collective annual Summer Dreams contest, with a mid-September deadline. This poem is called "Three Ways of Looking at the Man who Stepped Off the Platform onto the Tracks", and is about the man who was killed a week ago when he calmly stepped in front of a train pulling into the station - the very platform where I stand waiting for my train to take me downtown each weekday morning. While I realize there is no way of understanding what happened or why, my poem is an attempt to embrace the act with compassion and to see the man who died though the lens of information we have - the details of the moment before he stepped in front of the train, the reactions of the people who were there, and the larger collective response to human tragedy, which is often deeply empathetic, but unfortunately sometimes much uglier than the scene of this man's tragic demise.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Inspiration is something that tends to sneak up on me suddenly. It arrives most often when I am already writing, and tries to get me to steer the car in a completely different direction. There's a bit of a zig zag as I try to go in the direction I was heading, but Inspiration threatens to disappear if I don't pay attention to it NOW. Then a rush of ideas and phrases fill up my brain; the risk, of course, to lose it all if I don't write everything down. I surrender, and am happy - but then am left with the burdensome feeling of having yet another project to nurture, that I can only hope will be finished in this lifetime.
I believe others have written about inspiration, describing it as a bolt of lightning. It is like that: a sudden explosion of electricity in the brain. I've stopped trying to reason with it. Stopped trying to say: But I'm in the middle of something here! I'm supposed to be finishing this one! Come back in five months. No. It's riskier to ignore and lose something that you can probably never re-collect, never phrase in a better way. But what it means for my dining room table, the floor by my bed, my huge catch-all purse...is massive disorder...but also the chance to read something later and think, "Wow. This is worth finishing." Because odds are that bolt from the place where the best art comes from is far superior to anything I could have laboured over...
And so this week, while working on a number of half finished projects, I've allowed myself to be sidelined again. The proposition, though, has its appeal. It means revisiting an interesting relationship with a quirky hook: re-reading letters that are 20 years old and responding to them, now, as the 38 year old version of me. Now that I'm 8 years older than the sender was at the time, I feel I can finally address questions I was too young to be able to answer well the summer and fall after I graduated high school.
The piece I'd like to write is also an exploration of a correspondence that truly swept me off my young feet. I remember receiving letter after letter and being filled with amazement and longing. The words of this man - a musician I'd written to after wanting to know more about the music he was making, 3000 km away and 12 years my senior - were a delicious secret, and a salve for a girl who was unformed, and due to the events of the previous year, a bit broken.
Ultimately this romantic friendship in letters, of course, ended. I believe it is true that you can't know the meaning of a person or event until you can stand back and look at it from a great distance; for this reason, the 20 year mark seems like the right place to reflect and appreciate the lasting virtues of a dialogue that centered on the sensual and the spiritual, the mystery of life and death - and also spent a lot of time bantering about art, film, literature and music. This written conversation in ten parts entertained me for months, but also moved me to greater expectations of myself and what I could do with my potential. It also gave me a surer sense of what I wanted, and should/could expect, from a relationship that would be physically present, and yes, carnal.
Thank you, A, for all of that.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
The weeks keep flying by. I have been very busy at my day job, and my day and night gig as a parent, but have managed to keep moving forward with writing as well - always in tiny steps, tiny moments, tiny observations. I write for a half hour each way on the train every day, and usually an hour or two at night after my kids go to bed.
This week I submitted a poem I wasn't sure was finished to the Burnaby Writer's Society for their annual contest. I've sent the poem to my writer/reader mail list and have had more feedback than usual on it. Maybe it felt unfinished because I let it go without morphing it into something...expected? typical? familiar? It felt like a risk to set it free before it felt entirely done...but maybe it *is* done and I didn't overwork it because the deadline forced me to let it go. Another benefit of being squeezed by time, all the time.
While recently I've been focusing on paid writing gigs, this week demands on my time have prompted me toward the escapism of poetry writing. I am currently lounging in my pink Start a band shirt and green snowflake jammies, ready to work on the chapbook with a deadline of mid-August. Working on it tonight feels like a break; it means using a different part of the brain that will not be forced into corners. It's much more of a side step kind of dance. Surprising movements and moments. Surrender.
This morning I re-read the ten poems I have ready for the chapbook on the train, after setting it aside for a few weeks. I like them. Some of them are strong. They all stand alone, are very different, but are tied together by the theme. I have hope that in the end, when I have my twenty-to-twenty-three-ish poems ready to submit, they will come together into a package that amounts to more than the sum of their parts. I also hope they fill a niche that hasn't been filled, and never can be. The book is called I Can Make Life - a line swiped from an Ani Difranco song in which this phrase is not at all sung with irony. It asks to be read that way in my collection, though, which is about my personal struggle with a variety of reproductive crises over the course of several years.
This week I will be sending my mail list readers a new poem called Other Worlds, which was inspired by (and is basically a found poem lifted from) a book of that name by Paul Davies. The subject of the book is quantum theory. The subject of my poem is a string of biochemical pregnancies. I've always thought of the little ones, so near, so far, as "Star Babies", and was pleased with and surprised by how some of the phrases from Davies' book hit me in the gut...metaphysical, with a sense of longing and care one may not normally associate with scientific books. However, both the subject of my poem and this book deal with searching, striving for understanding, for reality - what is the real world? Certainly Mr. Davies didn't anticipate a woman many years later finding a poem in his words. Unless, of course, he found his way through space-time to June 2011.
If you'd like to read the poem, and any others that come along, please send me a message with your email address and I'll happily add you to the list.
If you're already with me, and you'd like to be on an informal committee to review my chapbook before the submission deadline in August, I'd be honoured to hear from you as well. I'm looking for three to five readers who would like to comment on the book overall, and provide more feedback on a handful of poems.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
I started writing for Demand Media Studios last month, which has been beneficial for me in several ways. I've learned how to improve my article writing, for one thing - by paring down, being more succinct and to the point. I've also lined my pockets a little bit. Being rewarded for doing something you love is truly one of the most satisfying things in life (especially when you've lived much of your life thinking this kind of reward for your efforts is impossible).
My articles have been fun to write, and have mainly been on subjects like fashion, home decorating, sewing and crafting.
Here are links to the first three articles I have written for eHow.com, which were recently published:
Ideas to Make 1950s Dresses
How to Customize Your Own Bedsheets
How to Make Your Own Side Skirts
In addition to article writing, I have been spending a lot of writing time on a chapbook I hope to have finished by August, and on submissions to contests and such.
As I always say: No rest for the wicked.
Monday, May 16, 2011
A long, great silence after my last post in March.
I try not to be too hard on myself for letting myself get so behind. There was my return to work the day before my last post, when I was optimistic my blog would be unaffected by this enormous change in my work and family life. Several weeks post-return-to-work, my son was sick - sick enough to require surgery at Children's Hospital. Over two miserable weekends, he was all I could focus on or think about.
In the meantime, while I haven't been regularly updating my blog, I have been writing. Writing constantly, with sharp focus and ambitious variety. Writing for hours without realizing how much time has passed. Writing up until bedtime and then getting up in the morning and writing on the train. Writing until I can't keep my eyes open. I love it. This, I finally know, is what I'm here for. I prefer this feeling of being aligned with a purpose, if frequently squeezed for time, to that wandering, aimless feeling of my 20s, where I couldn't stand up or commit to it. I wrote, but I also did anything but write (oh, mis-spent youth!). In the past few months I may have seemed silent, but have also been loud - in my writing, in my work, in my process...I am, in truth, sometimes too busy writing paid assignments, sketching out a new idea, or revising old words to submit somewhere, to consistently write about all the writing I'm doing.
While there is much more I could report on, I will say that my proudest achievement this year has been selling my story "For Tristan: A Meditation on Grief, Healing and Loss" to Wombat Book's upcoming anthology. I have now been through a few rounds of gentle edits, which has both made the story better and allowed me my first experience of working with an editor. I was lucky to have an amazing one, which made the process so much easier; naturally, both faith and trust are needed to hand over a work that is so personal to someone else, but Ms. Irma Gold made it easy. I am pleased to have learned recently that the anthology, The Sound of Silence: Journeys through Miscarriage, will be available October 1st at fine Australian bookstores, and launched on October 15th to coincide with International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. Once my website is up and running, I'll have copies available.
On another note, since my last blog post I have created a writer/reader mail list for anyone interested in my writing. This week I sent a poem called "Me, Again" about a moment from my childhood. The poem was also submitted to Vancouver's Pandora's Collective "Kisses and Popsicles" Spring Poetry Contest (winners announced June 15).
If you'd like to join the mail list, I'd love to hear from you.
Friday, March 25, 2011
This past week I returned to my office day job and survived. Somehow my family has also seemed to adjust with me. My fears of not being able to make it to the train on time because of radical measures at home (i.e. civil disobedience protests by my kids) were amped up higher than necessary. We all made it to the train and daycare and work on time. (This still seems a minor miracle to me). Hopefully long term the royal subjects don’t decide to revolt. It is hard to explain what a kitchen or bathroom riot at the hands of small children looks like if you’ve never seen one, and always seems a bad excuse for lateness in the professional world.
The fate of my writing life feels tenuous at the moment. Ideally I will acquire some kind of simple machinery (i.e. a small but functional mini laptop) for the hour I spend on the train every day soon to keep up the momentum. There is so much pleasure and satisfaction in writing for me at this time of life, and I am motivated to keep working against my own tiredness. I already feel my writing life and progress has been sadly delayed by the events of the past few years, and I want to keep moving forward as quickly as I can.
My method for staying on track, which I set up earlier in the year, has been to keep a schedule of submission and contest deadlines for poetry, creative non-fiction and postcard fiction. (I wish I’d done this much earlier, at a less busy stage of life). There are three deadlines coming up before May 1st that I hope to meet. My latest strategy in lieu of my return to work has been to write often, no matter what, and to try to write well without thinking too hard about every word. That is to say, there will be careful editing later, but not so much agonizing. I just don’t have time for it.
I was sick last week (the last of the family to catch the dreaded plague that held everyone back for day upon sad, sick day) and that has already put me behind with a few projects. I am late with an interview I have been trying to set up with the amazing Deanna Roy of Casey Shay Press. Deanna is an accomplished writer and photographer who also happens to have created one of the most useful and complete websites about pregnancy loss out there. My favourite creation of Deanna’s, though, is a beautiful and thoughtfully created memorial book for families who have lost a child. I can’t wait to learn more about her work, her book and her publishing company.
Last week I was able to complete a three part interview with an equally amazing woman, Kristi Sagrillo, who designs memorial jewelry which she sells in her etsy shop. This interview will be published on April 1st, and entered in another contest that begins on that very date on hubpages.
Speaking of contests, the big news since my last post has been my winning the writing contest I was nominated for last week. While my nomination may have been the result of my writing, my win represents the support of many friends who voted for my article Day Trips from Vancouver, Canada every day until the contest closed. Thank you very much to all of you for your support! I have already seen a rise in traffic to my online articles and as a result of the increased traffic have gained some new followers and fan mail as well.
Late Breaking News: I learned about an hour ago that my submission to the Mostly for Mothers miscarriage anthology was accepted! My piece, entitled For Tristan: A Meditation on Loss, Grief and Healing will be published in their upcoming book entitled The Sound of Silence: Journeys Through Miscarriage. Now there are edits to discuss and approve and a contract to sign. The publisher's plan is to release a print and e-book in the coming year...
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Yesterday I learned that one of my articles written for hubpages.com was nominated to compete against articles by five other writers for a weekly contest. Winners will be determined by vote, and will have their article included in a weekly newsletter with a readership of 60,000. The result would be many more readers seeing the body of work I've created in the last seven weeks. Some avid hub readers might become followers - an automatic audience for articles I've written and have yet to write - and I may see an increase in earning some additional money for my work.
If you'd like to vote (and I hope you will - you can vote once a day!) please click here and scroll down the page until you see the "Travel and Places" category. My article is called "Day Trips from Vancouver, Canada". You will see the article listed by title among the other five nominees. You can vote for the article a little further below. And, if you like, you can do the same each day until the contest closes on Wednesday, March 23.
What is funny about this article being nominated is that it's one of the first ones I've written. I don't think it's the best one I've written - nor is it about a topic I'm the most passionate about or put my heart and soul into writing. When I wrote it, I was trying to get a feel for writing articles; I was doing for myself what I saw other successful writers doing. But as it turns out, this humble little article about the place I'm from may be a gateway piece of writing to (very) modest fame and fortune. Accolades are accolades, and I truly do appreciate the honour.
Another reminder to keep writing, keep writing, keep writing...
PS If you have been following my hubs and would like to sign up at hubpages.com for the love or the money, click here.
Monday, March 14, 2011
Since I last posted an entry here, I have been studiously working on articles for hubpages. While I am a bit behind if I am to meet my goal of 30 hubs in 60 days, I am in that zone of high competition with myself right now; I'm going to try to do it until the clock runs out.
At the same time, I can't ignore that I am about to transition through some big life changes: returning to work, resulting in shorter blocks of family and free time, new chaos with new routines, and a familiar kind of "worklife" exhaustion I've replaced with other forms of exhaustion for the past year. I don't want to slow down, and am hell bent on adjusting quickly. I cannot stand the feeling of being disappointed in myself for not meeting my own goals. At the same time, I am all too aware that I am human (and will forgive myself for slipping - but only if necessary)...
I am very proud of my most recently published articles: a three part interview with the brilliant Devan McGuinness of Unspoken Grief (a website dedicated to offering understanding and support for those experiencing perinatal grief), and an article that I hadn't planned to write, but evolved naturally out of the essay I wrote for Mostly for Mothers as well as the research and writing I've been doing on the subject of pregnancy loss.
My article entitled Miscarriage Art: Self Portraits is not so much an article as it is an artist's statement about a project that wasn't necessarily intended to be made public. Days after I lost my much wanted baby, I was at home recovering physically and emotionally. I decided to record my experience through photographs of my face and body. As I put the photographs in an order that made sense to me several days ago (nearly two years after they were taken), I realized how much I missed using the visual part of my brain that gathers, sorts, organizes and tries to make something visually interesting or meaningful.
While my work on the above mentioned art project is similar to my researching and writing process, I was reminded about how satisfying it is to make visual art in a different way than it is to write. Visual art is more immediate to its audience, and for this reason can be more powerful. On another note, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I could use hubpages to make art out of something I didn't consider "art" beyond an artistic exercise for my own healing process. Publishing the hub also allowed me to see possibilities for reviving other art projects that otherwise lay in stacks in my basement, or hang on my walls unseen by anyone but my family. There are many opportunities for exposure to an unlimited, international audience through hubpages at a much lower cost financially (and time-wise) than finding new locations to hang my art in a gallery...or even to set about creating my own website.
This week I've been thinking about my current tendency to write in a cluster around one subject, and how that can result in oversaturation for those who read this blog, my facebook status updates and twitter feeds. Regardless, I feel compelled to keep writing about pregnancy loss. My goal is to create a presence on the web - to offer some solace, personal understanding and sharing by tackling aspects of the experience from angles or perspectives that are not frequently written about. I hesitate to present myself as any kind of expert, but I am learning as I read, learning as I write, and sharing as I learn. Without a doubt there is an audience for non-medical information about miscarriage (I would have devoured any information on the subject that didn't once more remind me of the all too familiar signs of miscarriage). My search was for information on healing, words and ideas that revealed what I could expect to feel or do to heal emotionally and spiritually.
This need to keep thinking, keep learning and keep writing is a compulsion I've already yielded to. I feel I have to keep going, if only to get to the other side. I think the other side is an unforseeable time when I no longer feel motivated to keep adding content to the information already available on this topic. I don't know when that will be - maybe after my goal of 30 articles is reached, but quite possibly not. Maybe this will prove to be my thing, my contribution, my life's work, or a large part of it. I'm open to whatever path my writing takes, so long as I stay committed to my own passion.
My next project is an interview with another amazing woman - the owner of an etsy store specializing in handmade and customized miscarriage, stillbirth and infant loss jewelry. I also have one more interview lined up after this one, with the creator of several excellent websites about pregnancy loss. Most notably, she has created a beautiful memorial book, In the Company of Angels, available through what appears to be her very own publishing company. I am deeply touched by the unique contributions of each of these women I have met through the internet, and am honoured that I can in some small way shine a light on their greatness.
As much of my efforts this past week have been focused on arranging interviews, generating questions and formatting material into publishable articles, I have taken a bit of a break from thinking too hard about what comes next. I return to my office life late next week, and then my next big deadline follows: the Event creative non-fiction contest. Last post I was debating which of three ideas would win the race for the Event submission, and a firm criteria now has made itself known. In order to meet the deadline I have to continue my momentum, to write about what is current in my mind and closest to my heart right now. This essay will not be about international development (even though I am excited to get to Cambodia, particularly as I've received some positive feedback and support for the idea), nor will it be autobiographical, about the zany life of a bisexual mom of two. I will follow my original idea, using the material I drafted but couldn't use when I wrote my piece for Mostly for Mothers. There are elements of that time that take on almost a magical realist quality in some of what I've already written, and I'd like to explore that.
With time constraints, that mildly uncomfortable feeling of compression, I will write where the fire is until, or unless, it burns itself out.
Friday, March 4, 2011
I remain a woman of my word. I have spent all my writing time since submitting my essay last week working on an article entitled Miscarriage Resources on the Web. I was happy to spend every second on it, and am excited to have put it out there. I hoped to produce one or two additional articles, but this one ended up being more time consuming than I expected. I didn't want to simply list a number of links. I wanted to do each website I referred to justice by describing it well; my goal is to drive traffic to the sites other women have worked so hard on as a labour of love. The goal of everyone doing this work is to help other women, and I want to do that as well as I can.
The research I did for this article has given me some ideas for future hubpages. Particularly, there are several women I would love to interview for upcoming articles. After writing this blog, I plan to contact at least three ladies whose stories, work and websites are particularly impressive and inspiring. I believe articles honouring these women will more or less write themselves.
In terms of process, I found this week that my mind turned to future essays that are asking to be written. They started making themselves known as I did boring activities, like wash dishes. While I was originally planning to submit another miscarriage-related essay to the Event creative non-fiction contest, a completely different essay from my days in international development work began to nudge me.
I used to work in an office with the mandate of administering international development projects. I travelled to three Southeast Asian countries for work on one of these projects, funded by the Canadian government, in 2005. The essay that wants to get written the most this week has let me know over a particularly demanding dirty plate that it should take the form of collage-like impressions, through the image of one symbolic body part.
I had been thinking for a long time - for the last several years following my trip to Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos - about a recurring image of the people and places in Cambodia. I even attempted to write a (bad) poem about that image that I haven't yet rescued, years after my return. But now this image is turning around in my mind again with new possibility, asking for a chance to appear in essay form. It is interesting the way the mind works, and leads you, gently and patiently, in different directions when you are an artist in the midst of a gathering period.
Now there are three essays competing for my attention, asking to be submitted to contests: the miscarriage essay, the international development essay and an essay about life on the ground as a bisexual mom of two young kids in a strange Canadian suburb. I'm not sure yet which one will win the race. They all, I hope, will make it to the finish line eventually. Likely, it will come down to pre-writing all three, and seeing which one wants to cross over first. Discovering, through sitting down at the blank page (or screen), which one has the most fire.
Speaking of fire, I received an email from the Burnaby Writer's Society last week with word on their topic for this year's writing contest. Fire is going to be challenging. It has been used so often, I believe all my effort will go to trying to write away from cliché, as much as writing towards something great. I will submit an entry regardless by the deadline of May 31. My options are a short poem, prose poem or story, with a one page maximum length.
Again, this week, I feel satisfied that my writing life is moving at the swiftest possible pace. Everything, I believe, is leading to something...
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...
Friday, January 28, 2011
It's interesting how our lives, in retrospect, can be broken up into sections of time with concrete beginning and end points. We can look back on our lives as chunks of time associated with people, how we spent our time, or what we were striving for.
The last few years my focus has been on my family: having children, getting married, and to some degree sharing some care taking responsibilities of other family members. The longest view of this period in my life began ten years ago when my wife and I first got together, bought a home after renting a place together for a few years, had our first child, struggled for what seemed like forever trying to have our second, and finally, got married.
In the past five years, my reading habits changed. I shifted to reading a lot more non-fiction. I felt my limited time was most valuably spent learning new skills and finding out what I needed to know to meet my (sometimes seemingly impossible) family planning goals. I enjoyed a novel every now and then, but didn't devour fiction the way I had done in my English major days. When I did read for enjoyment, my choices would gravitate toward personal essays and memoirs - as much for the pleasure of reading about someone else's life and experiences, as for the practical lessons available in examining how other people wrote non-fiction .
If I take an even longer view of my life as a writer, I can trace back my reluctant beginnings to the days when I first learned to read. I didn't love the process of learning, but once I got it, I loved it. Language Arts was always my favourite school subject, with art class a close second. When I first began writing for pleasure, I chose non-fiction. I wrote endless pages in my diaries and I wrote many, many letters. Sometimes I would get into the 50 page range for letter length. One time when my future wife went to Europe for two weeks, I broke the 100 page barrier.
I loved finding ways to share what was happening with me, from the truly miniscule, to the larger issues, with little pressure. I didn't realize it, but I'd fallen in love with a kind of writing that would much later evolve into something with the potential to be more professional and serious. While for a long time I felt a bit depressed that I never could possibly fit in enough quality writing practice to meet my goals, I hadn't realized that I'd actually already put in my 10,000 hours practicing my creative non-fiction writing skills. I did so unconsciously by writing letters to people I cared about, and by keeping a journal.
Writing freely, for pleasure, with the pressure off, led me to a style of writing I likely wouldn't have developed if I wrote in other genres, or wrote only with the thought of having a published audience. My writing would have probably suffered from the awareness that my stuff had better be good if someone important was watching, or if I could possibly "fail".
This week I have been reading the most recent book of essays by Sloane Crosley, How Did You Get This Number. I picked it up because it's title was so fitting: recently my mother-in-law's neighbour somehow got our unlisted phone number and began calling our home several times a week for no apparent reason. I have been reading it for escapism, and to have a laugh with my wife about the uncanny timing of a book with that title - but I'm also learning that Ms. Crosley's style of writing is the kind that comes very naturally to me. Telling true stories, embellishing a little for effect, and getting a laugh out of people for my own folly and the strangeness of our world and its odd inhabitants is something I simply love to do, and want to do more of.
Thanks, Sloane, for a highly recommended book. At times I laughed out loud in the tub as I read her descriptions of the inside smells of NYC taxi cabs. If you can't resist that kind of laugh yourself, you can find her book here.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
I've been writing for much of my life. Sometimes I've chosen to share my writing, but often I haven't. I think I always hoped that I could skip a public phase of bad writing, and somehow be published later in life by literary presses describing me and my unforeseen wild success as a found diamond.
I recently decided that it was time to start the writing seriously part, and maybe, in some fledgling way, sharing it. It would be an experiment, a process, a way of finding out what might happen if I acted like a real writer.
Last night I joined hubpages and wrote my first "hub". It was an article I'd had inside me for a long time. A "how to" guide I wished had existed and been easy to locate when I was confronted with one of the most difficult experiences I've ever been through - an early miscarriage. Here is my article.