Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go. ~ E. L. Doctorow

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bugs Bunny vs Yosemite Sam


I just left Barnes and Noble in a frenzy.  They were closing up and I hadn't finished reading the magazine article from Poets & Writers.  Luckily, my smartphone (T-Mobile G2) has a Microsoft Office app, allowing me to write down all the new magazines I was perusing and online literary journals I wanted to check out.  Driving home in the car, a wave of euphoria passed through me and I couldn't wait to write.
  
The holidays proved to be more than my simple mind could handle.  Like every woman, I inherently posses the ability to multitask, but unfortuantely I reach maximum overload when I've gone over 20 tasks.  Then, my creative flow goes on strike.  I sit down to write and nothing comes out.  I avoid my computer, indulge in T.V. shows and movies, but the issue at hand always finds me. (Cue ominous music)  WRITER'S BLOCK.    

The past month or so I've worried my creativity might disappear for good.  As though the entire thing was a fluke.  Preparing for Thanksgiving and Christmas required a tremendous amount of concentration.  I made lists of my daily tasks, including writing.  The internal battle to be creative or responsible ensued.  Responsibility came out the winner.  I kept pushing my creativity to the wayside.    

It reminded me of a Looney Tunes episode with Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam duking it out over a small western town in "Bugs Bunny Rides Again."  Neither of them wants to leave, but the town wasn't big enough for the two of them.  They try everything to expel the other. 

My favorite scene, besides the horse chase, was when Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam pulled guns out on each other and resorted to juvenile retorts.  "Oooooo no I ain't!"  "Oooooo yes you are!"  This continues for a minute.  I am usually left in tearful hysterics.    

Yes, a scene that plays out in my mind often when I feel overwhelmed.  Frustration and again, fear of failure take over.  Writing and creativity escaple me, while I'm stay on top of errands and chores.  There isn't enough brain power for the both of them. 

Right now, it comes down to a scarifice: my anal retentiveness for my creativity or vice versa.  It's one thing or the other.  Never both.   I need to figure out a way to have both of them peacefully coexist before one is pushed off a cliff.  My creativity needs to find its way to the top of my priority list, as opposed to the lack of respect it receives now.   
While I work through my mini-personal crisis, tell me what you do to maintain your creative flow.  How do you deal with the day-to-day minutiea and set aside time to write?     

Monday, December 20, 2010

First Experience with a Magazine Editor

I braved the cold and traveled into Philadelphia to the offices of MetroKids Magazine last Thursday. I’ve been interning for them for the past two and half months. Since most of my time is spent at home updating attractions listings, I wanted a chance to see how a magazine was put together for publication. Little did I know, everything is done on computers, and unless I was in charge of a specific section, I wasn’t going to learn much.

When I emailed my interest to observe the production process, the editors told me to bring in the attraction listings and article I was working on because they were fully engaged in preparing the January issue. I was a bit nervous about bringing in my article on the 10 Family Movies of All Time, since I hadn’t made much progress with it. I couldn’t get a list of 10 movies for ages toddlers to teens to save my life. Another problem I ran into was determining what movies would not only entertain children, but their parents as well and offer discussion topics. 

It was a good thing I went into the office to get the entire thing worked out with him. I mentioned I was going to choose a movie or two that would be released in Feb. “Why?” he asked. “If it’s going to be the best movies of all time, then you wouldn’t be choosing a new movie.” A bit of a slap in the face, but I took it in stride and kept on moving. I apparently didn't understand the assignment. Great start!

We discussed my struggle with finding movies for toddlers. They are incapable of truly understanding what is going on in the movie and are only really able to comprehend the colors and movement on the screen. I gave them a few choices, including Leap Frog movies that they shot down. They were looking for more full-length features. I told them that a child that age would not be able to sit still long enough. Eventually, we decided that the toddler age should be eliminated. The movie ages would start at 5.

Ok. Then came the discussion of finding critically acclaimed family movies of all time. Well, not many were available. He didn’t believe me. I gave him several of my choices, but he didn’t seem to like them too much. Mean Girls in particular. I felt that it dealt with very poignant topics of bullying and popularity teenagers face everyday. “Is that critically acclaimed?”

Moving on. I then spoke about finding male and female movies for the tweens and teens. “Why would you do that?” I explained I found many movies for girls, but few for boys and I knew not too many families with boys were going to run out and rent Mean Girls or Twilight (critically acclaimed? Not sure.). I wanted to make sure the article reached a broader range of people. I brought up The Dark Knight. I voiced my concerns for the movie due to the violence and he shot it down immediately, saying it didn’t have any real merit or value. “That wouldn’t be on Common Sense Media website,” (he continuously threw this website out at me when ever I ran into a roadblock). Actually, that’s where I got the idea. He was shocked. Went online to check my story. Common Sense Media called it "an excellent sequel."

I then ran down the list of top 10 teen movies, which included Best of Show. I love this movie, but I know many people didn’t enjoy, laugh or understand the quirky movie. I knew a teenager wouldn’t get it or relate to the dog breeding/showing topic, but he felt it was the greatest idea. So, what I gleaned from this was he was biased about the movies. If he didn’t like them, then they shouldn’t be in the article. I felt his reasoning had little to do with whether the children and parents would enjoy the movie.

After about 30 minutes of me trying to plead my case and the editor trying to prove me wrong, he told me to just go ahead with the direction I was in. I seemed to know what I was doing and he was just mucking up the works. We also revised the topic to 10 Terrific Family Movies. Holy cow! It felt good to know that I was on the right path and I hadn’t run off the road recklessly. I know that he will be impressed with the article and I will write something I will be proud to put my name on.

Is this how all editors work? Being my first experience, I think I learned a great deal in a short amount of time. I need to have the confidence to say I think something isn’t working, with evidence to back up my claim. I need to stand my ground. I did so, not as confidently as I hoped, but my point was made and I have a bit more leeway with the article.
So, what has your experience with editors been like? Do you have any advice on the editor/writer relationship?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Warning Labels on Critique Submissions

Everything requires bubble wrap and warnings to avoid complaints and lawsuits when someone invariably gets hurt or offended by something they encounter in the world. The Internet immediately brings information to us when asked, and with the lack of restrictions comes the responsibility to ensure visitors are aware of the dangers and possible PG or higher-rated material. The following material (violence, sexual content, foul language, etc.) may not be suitable for you.

I knew I might discuss controversial topics or use adult language on my blog, so I included a warning. Is this necessary? I believe it is and isn't. I wouldn’t want someone to stumble upon something only to have the disturbing images permanently burned into their memory, although, a little shock could do them some good (I am still battling with my public image). Living in a bubble causes damage as well, folks. And I certainly wouldn’t want children to see something that might possibly steal away their innocence.

Now, what about a piece of writing submitted to a writer’s group for critique? A writer brings their unfinished piece of work in need of different perspectives and opinions in hopes of improving. Well, a member of my writer’s group submitted a chapter from his novel that addressed two adolescents’ sexual awakening in detail. The controversy of his writing set the group ablaze.

Since the submissions are sent to the members ahead of time, an email was sent to the organizer expressing disapproval and discomfort of the "pornography" and possible "kiddie porn" in the piece. The organizer then started a thread on the message board entitled: Putting Warnings on Monthly Submissions Feedback. A passionate discussion followed leading to members stepping up on their soap boxes, carelessly throwing their words around and inflicting damage to one another. It got pretty ugly. The members unnerved one another more than the writing did.

As I read through all the posts, I weighed my own opinion on the piece of writing and the idea of imposing warning labels on submissions. Yes, the detailed scene did jar me a bit, but it was not the homosexual nature of it, but rather the question of the scene itself as part of the entire piece. It felt disconnected. I wasn’t sure if the scene gave insight to the characters, moved the plot forward, or if it was like a rock in your shoe, no real purpose.

I believe my thoughts and questions about the scene would help the author gain perspective on how readers respond and improve accordingly. It would give him a chance to decide what he wanted the scene to do, what the scene still needed, and ultimately, make the final decision of whether it should be kept or cut out.

Unfortunately, many members were appalled by the idea of allowing sexually explicit material into the group for critique, and asked that an author slap a label on anything with graphic violence and/or sex, giving the reader a choice to proceed or pass. If unfinished writing has a warning label, would it receive quality feedback or would preconceived notions taint it? Wouldn’t the author want the readers to respond to something in the moment? I think the immediate reaction to shocking material, positive or negative, would be helpful to the author. If for nothing but determining the audience for the piece.

I understand the group is made of many different people with diverse religious, political and emotional backgrounds, but do you think warning labels on writer’s group submissions are necessary?

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Final Stretch of NaNoWriMo

Word count: 37, 198

The Winner’s Circle. The adoring fans delight in the triumphant victory as they surround the winner. Cheers and confetti rain down, while the champion embraces their loved ones, accept gifts and gracefully bows to the acclaim. The glory to win NaNoWriMo, unfortunately, was not mine this year.

Obstacles of work, holidays, a stomach virus, and exhaustion proved far more difficult than I anticipated. My typing and imagination stalled at 37,000 words and I bowed my head in defeat as the clock ticked closer and closer to 11:59 pm.

An admirable attempt I think. I pushed myself to write a novel and I’m almost finished. First chapter tie down many writers for weeks, while I am riding the wave of the rising action about to clumsily type the climax and conclusion. In one month, I have come so far as a writer and now hold an almost complete first draft in my hands, soon to be revised.

The pride I feel is comparable to the winners. What I learned about my strength and writing capabilities and what this insane challenge holds in store for its participants only makes victory possible next year.

I would like to take this moment (I prepared an acceptance speech) to thank everyone who supported me through this confounding experience, urged me to continue writing when I wanted to give up, sat with me in Borders furiously typing, and dispensed sage advice. Knowing how many people stood behind me brings tears of happiness. As my token of appreciation, my first novel will be dedicated to you. Thank you.

Monday, November 15, 2010

NaNoWriMo-Day 14

Current word count: 24,051

The weekends. A time to sit down, shirk all other responsibilities and write. Let’s be serious. Melting into the couch with my boyfriend Kevin is far more appealing. Although, I found time on Saturday morning while he worked to update 13 more attraction listings for my internship and scribbled a few drab words for my much-neglected blog, but still no NaNo writing.

My goal was to reach 20,000 words by Saturday so that I could get myself back on track, but I fell short of my goal. BUT, I did manage to make it up today by writing over 5,000 words! I’m a writing animal. 3,200 of those words were written in two hours at my weekly Write-In at Borders fueled by Alex’s (fellow Wrimo) yummy brownies and chocolate chip cookies that smelled like Christmas and cold-brewed marble mocha iced coffee.

As the Write-In came to an end, we discussed our concerns and dilemmas with our novels. Alex asked me and one other participant, Greg, to put excerpts of our story on our NaNoWriMo website homepage. Make my words available for readers? I felt the cold, icy hand of fear squeeze my heart, making my eyes bulge. Of course I immediately declined the suggestion. There is no reason my terrible words should be thrust upon unsuspecting readers. She assured me that writers are much harder critics of their own work than readers. I came home and checked over a few sections and concluded the only thing I would accomplish from publishing an excerpt of my novel is shame.

Once I got over the mini spasm attack, I took a look at the amount of words I’ve written so far, and I can’t believe it. 24,000 words. I’m finally connecting with my story and can’t wait to write each scene. I’m having a lot of fun writing, watching my story and characters evolve. It’s just not ready for public eyes.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

NaNoWriMo-Day 11

Current word count: 13,061-17,341

One caveat for NaNoWriMo participants: Avoid bookstores. Seeing the shelves of new writers, wishing my name were there, is defeatist. It leaves you in a desolate place where doubt and fear swallow you whole.

Crap. All I have written is crap. Literary junk food is the only level my novel might attain, and literary is overly optimistic.

The dialogue is suffocating the narration. There is too much and it’s starting to annoy me. Lexi is a silent main character. No one, including me, knows what she’s thinking. Clearly, balance does not exist in my writing toolbox.

Revision is an inaccurate word to describe the next stage once I’ve finished writing. Complete overhaul sounds better. Reading my words brings on fits of despair. Don’t even get me started on the lack of interesting in my sentences. You would have thought I was a first grader just learning to put words together to make sentences. Quantity over quality. Wait, I think that was the goal of the challenge. Either way, my writing is awful, but at least my word count is catching up.

I…must…keep…writing.

NaNoWriMo-Day 10

Current word count: 12,197

I didn’t get any NaNo writing done until 10 o’clock tonight. I worked on my internship and web design class earlier. Theresa Hegel from The Intelligencer newspaper (http://www.phillyburbs.com/news/local/the_intelligencer.html) interviewed me regarding my participation in NaNoWriMo. I’m excited she’s going to plug my blog in the article. Since I waited until the end of the day, I only wrote about 800 words.

Fear kept me from writing today. Fear of the words needed to get back on track. How silly. I am truly enjoying the writing experience and the creation of my novel. Fear shouldn’t be able to wiggle its way into my psyche. One attempt to block fear: I place index cards with statements and words of encouragement around my writing area to spur me on. It still finds a way to paralyze my fingers and confuse my thoughts.

My inner editor has been whispering through the cracks in the box its been locked in, too. Apparently my characters are in service to my plot, when the plot should be in service to the characters. What?!?! Basically, my characters are the main attraction in a novel, and the plot should reveal details and provide insight to them. It should lay the path the characters will grow, evolve, learn, or remain stagnant. Right now, the characters just decorate the plot.

The whispers continued, exposing more flaws. I need more internal monologue from Lexi, my main character. The setting needs development to ensure my words will create images of Willow Hill in the minds of my readers. I can hear wind shaking the stubborn yellow and orange leaves on the trees outside, but weather is almost completely absent from the novel’s existing pages, not so realistic. Currently, my novel takes place in a forgettable two-dimensional world. Crap. Unfortunately none of these problems will be fixed until the revision stage. Ahhh! Where the hell is Nov. 30th?

I’m tired and my eyes won't stay open. Tomorrow is another day.

NaNoWriMo-Day 8

Current word count: 8,076-9,985

Well, I spent an hour and a half completing the murder scene. The victim, Ken, is dead from multiple stab wounds. Those almost two thousand words came quickly. Now, I have to get myself ready to tackle the police investigation scene next.

As a former English teacher, my crime scene investigation and police procedural skills are limited to what I’ve read and seen on T.V. It’s really important that it sounds realistic.

Barnes and Noble has a set of books on the shelves of the writing/publishing section covering these subjects. I could always go to the police station across the street from me and do some research as well, but I think right now I need to focus on getting the story on the page. Research, although should have been done before the writing and outlining began, will need to be done during the revision stage.

I need a break.

NaNoWriMo-Day 7

Current word count: 5,924-8,076

Well, I have slacked off for the last 3 days. The shame has latched onto my back, pulling me down. Luckily, I met up with a few other Wrimos at Border’s for a Write-In and got myself back on track. We all accomplished 2000 words in the two hours and earned the Socializing badge. Go Team!

I find working independently with other writers motivating. It was comforting to share space and talk when moved to, and encourage each other to write. A more productive environment than what is set up at my house. None of us were tempted to putter around on Facebook or e-mail for fear of being caught. We enjoyed it so much we are meeting up again next Sunday.

Unfortunately, I am still further behind that I would like to be. I might try to write a bit more tonight before I go to bed, but no promises.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

NaNoWriMo-Day 4

Current word count: 3,269-5,924

I started my day off getting my internship work and web design class completed. Now, I have all day to NaNo write. I feel more rested today, and I have more motivation.

I am not working at the moment (won’t last for long), which allows me more time to get my creative flow moving. The other day I went into to my seasonal job, Williams Sonoma, and filled out my rehire paperwork. I missed the warm holiday smells of mulling spices and pumpkin and talking with some of my favorite co-workers. Some of the characters and murder location of my NaNo novel are based on employees and the store itself. Although I might lose time to write, going back might prove helpful for development of details and scenes in my story, and I might earn another NaNo badge if I secretly write at work.

So far this challenge has taught me novel writing is extremely hard. After spending two hours of typing, huge waves of exhaustion crash on top of me. Then, the days I can't muster the energy to write I'm beat down by guilt. Feelings of failure overwhelm me and the doubt sets in. My word count doesn't move, but I'm hoping it can be made up on the days I do write.

Another source of frustration is the devilish word counter nonchalantly hanging out at the bottom of my word document window. It has thwarted my attempts to hide it on the computer, so I put an index card containing a character sketch in front of it. I am no longer tempted to glance down at my insufficient progress, and I have details about the character currently in the scene I'm writing. Two birds, one stone.

One more frustration. Ideas for the next scene pop up or my inner editor tries to get out of the box its been banished to while I’m trying to finish a chapter/scene. I tell myself to keep writing, even if things don’t fit, are misplaced or just plan suck. JUST WRITE!!!!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

NaNoWriMo-Day 3

I’m really tired today. Writing is very exhausting. Luckily, many of the attractions updates I worked on today for my internship were not in the database. It afforded me more time to get other things done, write more, and see my boyfriend.

All my grand plans were thwarted when UPS delivered my greenhouse. I was going to wait to put it together, but my mom offered her assistance. It took us about an hour and there is still one pole that is not completely in its place. It was a bitch to get together, and the frustration made us edgy. Several times either one of us would have killed someone if they stepped too close.

My exhaustion rose to a new level. Because I couldn’t find the energy to write, I put my outline and character sketches on index cards. That’s where I left the day, but it a total waste it was not.

My boyfriend, Kevin, came over and imparted a few words of wisdom. He told me to write about my fatigue, even if it didn’t have anything to do with my scene. He said I could only then really understand what fatigue felt like. He also told me to write in information that I skipped in a previous chapter, perhaps a character reflecting on earlier scenes. Then I could go back during revision phase and move things around.

Throughout the challenge I can earn badges for different accomplishments. I believe if I were to write information into places it doesn’t fit, but is pertinent to the novel would count as an attempt to pad words. I think I would buy the badges if I earn several more through the month. All the badges:

NaNo Socializing

Word-Count Padding

Procrastination

Caffeine Abuse

Secret Noveling

Creative Nonfiction

Rally Day

the Eureka Moment

Random Ending

Victory

Hopefully, tomorrow will bring more energy to write.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The NaNoWriMo Insanity Begins!



NaNoWriMo started on Monday, and I began with a bit of a rough start.

I spent the entire month of October plotting and sketching my mystery novel in my head and jotting down notes everywhere. Halloween night I finally wrote a basic synopsis, showing me the entire story from beginning to end. Then, I created the outline of basic plot points including a few notes on what information was necessary to include in each scene and leaving out any major details. This way I could really experience the creative process.

It felt good to have the story staring back at me, but for some reason it didn't feel right. My nervousness began creeping in. The 2,000 words I planned to write on Monday were weighing heavily on me. Questions prayed on my already weakening confidence, leading me to think I wasn't up for the challenge.

Does my story make sense? Am I going to be able to make it to the end of the month with 50,000 words written? What if I make it to the end with a terrible story that needs to be thrown away?

Well, Monday came and I didn't get any writing done. I was so embarrassed. I spent the day catching up on my blogs, updating attractions listings for my internship, and anything else to avoid writing. I needed a change of scenery, so I took a shower.

As the water warmed me up, I realized my story lacked an element of surprise. Was this why I couldn't write? And then, it came to me! I knew the final, surprise ending to the story. After I was dressed, I went back over my outline trying to find areas to drop clues. By the time I decided to sit down and get some words down, I was exhausted. I typed 16 words, saved it, and went to bed.
Tuesday, I finally got a good amount of writing done. I realized after I started writing I needed to put my outline and character sketches on index cards. It was frustrating going back and forth from different Word documents to find information I needed to incorporate in the story.
Then, my doubt was back. This is my first time really diving into a large writing project, and I was really scared. I’ve never written a novel or anything close in length before, and I was concerned I would make it to the end of my novel short on words. Before this challenge, I spent my time responding to prompts with 500 word limits. To top it all off, I couldn't keep my eyes from moving down the page every five minutes, finding the word counter at the bottom, wishing it will magically increase.
I was also fighting an urge to write my chapters and go back to fill in details, but I’m not supposed to stop writing or go back to make changes. Pumping out a novel? More like dragging it out from under the bed, kicking and screaming. So, I decided to keep a writing journal, with lists of concerns, frustrations, doubts, and ideas in a separate document. Clearing my head of all the bad Mojo stalling me.
The journaling allowed me to point out flaws in my writing. I noticed I was writing a bare bone story, leaving out important sensory details. If I kept this up, my fears of failure would become reality.
An hour later, I was surprised. My flow of writing improved. The journaling alerted my subconscious to fix the problems as I continued to write. Details found their way into my writing, as well as a few unintentional foreshadowings.
The excitement helped me get into the story, strengthening my connection to the plot and improving the character development. Now, my story was guided by independent 3-demensional characters, instead of uninteresting, flat ones.
I finished at 12:44 am, writing 3, 269 words. I am not entirely sure how to avoid rushing or dragging out the exposition, I know I'm behind in word amount, but I need to write whatever comes out and stop psyching myself out. 

Out self-sabotaging thoughts! 

 Welcome positive and inspirational thoughts.

Here's a quick glance at my basic synopsis, sans ending:
Lexi Andrews, a woman approaching her 30’s, finds her store manager of Gourmet Chef lying in a pool of blood with a carving knife protruding from his chest. The police are called to the scene, but all Lexi can remember is seeing a flash of red when she returned to the sales floor from trash collection in the storeroom. Investigations look into a recently fired employee who was seen arguing with the victim after the store closed, an angry, self-entitled super-mom the victim humiliated during a turkey carving demonstration, and the victim’s jealous boyfriend, who’s finger prints were found on the knife. Lexi’s personal struggles are compressed with the shock and tragedy of losing her friend and coworker. Someone is following her; death threats are left on her car, boiling down to a fatal fight.




Wednesday, October 20, 2010

New Internship Washes Away Bad Taste

Recently, I applied for an entry-level position with Philadelphia Magazine, but unfortunately my resume was discarded because I didn't have any magazine experience and I never worked with the computer program they use to put their magazine together.

And after an unsuccessful experience with my last internship, I applied to one with MetroKids, a free Philadelphia based magazine for parents, hoping for better results. I sent my resume and three writing samples: a personal essay and two biography entries. I was ecstatic about interning for a magazine. I would learn how it runs, how an issue is put together, experience working with an editor and get published.

Since I had worked with children as a former teacher, I thought I made a good candidate for MetroKids. The skills I would gain would increase my chances of being hired at a magazine if that's what I wanted to do once I completed the internship.

After I clicked "send", I realized I didn't include a cover letter. Did I have to? They only asked for a resume and writing samples in the ad. My anxiety began to build. I pulled up Google and searched "cover letters" and found out I should include a cover letter each time I apply for a job, even if it isn't specified. Employers view an applicant without a cover letter as lazy and throw out their resume.

Now, I knew that. I included one every time I applied for a teaching position. They became easy. All I had to do was change a few things: address the letter to the specific school district and update any skills I acquired. Writing jobs I've applied to require me to write almost an entirely different cover letter each time. An annoying and painstakingly long process, but necessary if I want to be hired.

My anxiety started to overwhelm me. Instead of kicking myself for missing an opportunity, I sent another email including a cover letter. Then I waited. A week went by with no response. I assumed that my resume was overlooked because I didn't include a cover letter the first time. Another attempt at getting a job failed.

Then, I received a phone call from a number I didn't recognize while I writing two weeks ago. After debating, I picked it up. The man on the other end, Tom Livingston, was the editor at MetroKids. He had looked over my resume and writing samples and was interested in offering me the internship. He revealed he wasn't sure what to think about my writing samples, since he focuses on journalistic writing, but the calendar editor, Stephanie Halinski, said I wrote with "vivid verbs". What a great compliment.

The following week I would head into the tiny magazine office in Philly to make sure Tom and I "didn't hate each other." I appreciated his humor, and realized this internship was starting off more positively than the last one.

I went in on Monday, met the friendly staff, and received an overview of my responsibilities. Tom showed me his wall of magazine covers dating back to 1999 (when I graduated high school) that help him reference font styles and formats that he liked for future issues. He then explained he needed a few more weeks to put the 2011 editorial calendar together before he could assign me an article, and asked me to trust him. I said sure. I had no reason not to.

Just then, the distribution manager, Leah, informed Tom and Stephanie that November's issue had arrived. I walked downstairs to participate with two other staff members, six of us in all, in the high-tech system of getting the magazine in the building: a human assembly line. I was getting practical, on-the-job experience of how a magazine works. Although unexpected, I really enjoyed it.

Then, I sat down with Stephanie as she guided me through the process of updating attraction listings. Everything appeared pretty straight forward and I would have a typed up guide to help me at home. The attractions needed to be put on the web site, eventually used to create 2011's Find-It Book.

Tom walked me to the subway entrance down the street after I said my good-byes and let everyone know it was nice to meet them. I told him I was very excited to be working with him and the magazine. He assured me that I was welcome to come in and work to get an idea of what it's like working for a magazine.

While riding the R3 home, I realized I didn't know which section to start updating. An email from Stephanie greeted me when I finally made it home. She said I should start with Bucks County, since I live there.

I finished that Thursday, sent in my update report and received my next assignment to add attractions that were not already in the database from the Bucks County listing. Stephanie's email responses are prompt and answered any question I presented. I know I made the right choice to stop the work I was doing with my previous internship.

There might have been a lot of negative memories, but my first intern experience made me a stronger person. I speak up for myself, and look out for my best interests while working for someone else. I dictate the parameters of my internship. I set and reach my goals. I just need to remind myself it isn't going to happen over night. Hard work and mistakes will reveal my path.

I am grateful I can work from home, but still go in to the office when I want to with MetroKids. I enjoy Tom's self-deprecating humor and Stephanie's sweet personality. I can't wait for my first writing assignment. I knew, if I kept moving forward with my eyes peeled, new opportunities would present themselves.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Musical Muse Prompt

I receive emails from the Writer's Digest blog, Promptly, every couple of days. Using music lyrics to produce a few hundred words was yesterday's prompt. It hoped to inspire the writer by asking them to choose two favorite songs. Pick a line from the chorus of one song, and a line from the chorus of the other song and integrate into their scene.

I was really excited by the prompt because I love music lyrics. The song writers always seem to say exactly what I'm feeling when I've gone mute. The words evoke strong emotional responses from me. So, why not take advantage of the writing exercise and put the strong emotional responses down in a short scene, giving my thoughts a voice.

Alexi Murdoch's "Wait" and Florence and The Machine's "Heavy in Your Arms" and "You've Got the Love" are the three songs I chose (two songs weren't enough). I started the scene with "If I can’t be, all that I could be", used "I'm so heavy, heavy, heavy in your arms" right before the end, and concluded the scene with "You’ve got the love I need to see me through." I changed the lyrics around a bit to fit the scene, but I think the emotion is still intact. Let me know what you think.

Silent Fear

If I can’t be, all that I could be, would you still love me, she thought as she watched him sleep. Something was always missing, constantly nagging her. She wanted to talk about the insanity drowning her. Her quick, shallow breaths woke him.

“Are you alright?” he asked, turning to face her.

“I can’t sleep.”

“What’s on your mind?”

Biting the tip of her thumb, she shook her head afraid to tell him. Her chest got tighter, knowing something needed to be said, but couldn't find the courage. What if my words chase him away?

“Talk to me.”

“I’m overwhelmed.”

Overwhelmed by all the choices she faced everyday. What am I going to do with my life? She left her last job with no intention of ever going back. Eager to move forward, she bit off more than she could handle.

“By what?”

Shaking her head, pushing the sheets away, she got out of the bed. He followed as she walked into the living room and sat on the couch.

“Amy, you have to talk to me. I can’t help you if I don’t know what’s going on.”

She wanted to tell him she felt powerless. Everything was hitting her so fast, and she couldn’t keep up or catch her breath. Succumbing to doubts of success made her want to disappear. She squeezed his hand unsure if he would stay with her if she didn’t amount to anything.

“I can’t do this?”

“Do what? Please talk to me.”

“Dan, I can’t breathe. I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“Well, you aren’t going to get passed this if you aren’t willing to talk about it.”

Her thoughts chaotically ran around her mind, moving too fast to be spoken. She feared her meltdowns were starting to weigh on him. Any sane man would get fed up with this weakness and leave. I rely on him for so much, but how long will it last?

“I’m afraid I’m going to lose you.”

“Why?”

“Because my life is such a mess and I can’t get my shit together. I’m afraid my depression is going to wear you out and you’ll leave.”

She turned her back to him, afraid to see his face. She dropped his hand, stood up from the couch and moved to the window. He got up and stood behind her as she watched the flag waving in the night wind. Out of frustration, he grabbed her shoulder so he could see her face as he spoke to her.

“Number one, stop running away from me. How can I be there for you, if you won’t let me?”

“I’m so scared. I feel myself falling.”

“Grab onto me.”

“But . . . I feel so heavy in your arms.”

“I can handle it, just hold on.”

She looked at him, tears filling her eyes. I don’t know if I can hold it together anymore.

“When will this get easier?”

The tears finally fell down her face as she crumbled into him. His strong embrace made her feel safe, like nothing could wound her. She wanted to stay there forever.

“I don’t think it gets easier. You just eventually get stronger.”

Looking up through her tears, she kissed him hard. You’ve got the love I need to see me through this.




Sunday, October 10, 2010

Can I write a novel in 30 days?

A challenge of 50,000 words in 30 days or National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is quickly approaching. November 1st marks the day participants begin writing every day for one month in hopes of completing 50,000 words. The creators of this writing project hoped the dreams of aspiring novelists would come true by writing without inhibitions and putting the internal editor to sleep. Which, right now, is something I struggle with every time I sit in front of my computer.

Here's a peek into my daily writing routine: stop every few lines, go back, reread, shift words around, stare at the screen, plan my next move, check email, walk around, and repeat. I end up with more frustration than success. Perfecting an unfinished piece does nothing but waste time. You can't properly revise writing without seeing the whole picture. Yet, I do just that and all I accomplish is a lengthy list of excuses, getting no closer to finishing a project.

NaNoWriMo really challenges its participants to write without stopping, to push for quantity rather than quality. This could be a chance to write my first novel; a chance to really open up my creative flow, stay on the main road of writing, instead of constantly turning onto editing, revising, and insecurity side streets.

An ambitious endeavor? Sure, but my current unemployed status offers copious amounts of writing time. Why not take advantage of the opportunity?

Immediately, several drawbacks spring to mind.

Let's see . . . will there be time to complete other writing projects? Currently, I am building a freelance career, and time needs to be worked into the novel schedule for income-providing essays and articles. I could spend the rest of October developing the outline and character sketches for my novel and researching and outlining writing projects I can submit for payment. If all the leg work is taken care of I'll only need to focus on writing the essays or articles in between the novel.

What happens if I burn out? December comes along and slaps me in the face with a loss of interest, just in time for the holidays. The fear of not writing again creeps into my thoughts. I don't want to destroy something before it gets started. From what I have seen on the NaNoWriMo website though, the forums and meet ups help participants stay focused and motivated. Not only will I have put together a supportive community for the novel, but I'm sure they will be there after the challenge is over to keep me on track.

Questions of why I want to embark on this crazy novel-writing journey continue popping up. Challenging and pushing myself out of the comfort zone shows me what I can handle and how far I can go. My writing routine will pick up speed becoming reckless and wild. No time for second-guessing, releasing myself into a euphoric state of creation. Frustration, hesitation, and procrastination will no longer plague me on a regular basis. This outside pressure, forcing me past my insecurities, will produce a full piece of writing. I will be one step closer to my dream of publishing a novel, and be overwhelmed with pride.

Of course, the thought of not completing the challenge nags me, but the idea of fearlessness is intoxicating. Taking a tip from Sandra Cisneros, I won't let fear get in my way. I will tackle the things I'm afraid of. So, I'm going to sign up for the NaNoWriMo challenge. No more questions. No more hesitations.







Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Internship and Writing Project Leave Bad Taste in Mouth

When I began my internship with Mr. H, an English professor/playwright, in July, his close friend Mr. C needed a web page to inform potential investors and other interested people about the ballet company International Ballet Classique in Delaware County. As a board member, he hoped to keep costs down for the non-profit company by utilizing the free service of Wikipedia and Mr. H's interns. Ultimately, receiving free publicity. Mr. H offered the project to me, thinking it could lead to a Wikipedia writing business.

How often would I receive professional writing opportunities with no experience? I thought about it for a few seconds--encouraged by Mr. H's confidence in me--then said yes. I knew this experience would help me find paid writing jobs in the future.

The first step was to email Mr. C and attach a writing sample. I used the only one I had to date from college: Alice in Wonderland re-imagined. When I called him, he and I spoke about my piece and my writing aspirations. He assured me when ever an idea for an article came to him, he would let me know. Then asked me to keep in touch with him via email throughout the process.

Once I hung up, I got to work researching the company through websites and online articles. Mr. C also mailed me a copy of the Brandywine Country magazine with an article on IBC's ballet master and mistress, Denis Gronostaskiy and Anastasia Babayeva. I sifted through the information I accumulated, jotted down notes in my journal, and compiled the research into a word document. During my search, I noticed most of the sites regurgitated the same small amount of information, but the magazine article proved helpful, providing insight into the two dancers.

During this phase, Mr. C emailed me Wikipedia entires on other ballet companies to study the structure of their pages. I gathered details from entries I felt were aesthetically pleasing and user friendly and set up an outline based on those notes. Then, I filled the outline in with all the research I had highlighted to use for the entry.

Afterwards, I noticed gaps from a lack of information. I emailed Mr. C, updating him on what I completed to this point, and listed all my questions to be answered by Executive Director Josie Singer. Unfortunately, Mrs. Singer was burdened with family problems and unable to answer my questions for several weeks.

Finally, I received an email from Mr. C with some answers to my questions, but not all. I then incorporated them into the outline. The company was busy with rehearsals for The Nutcracker, so Mr. C suggested I write two separate entries on Denis and Anastasia while I waited for the rest of the answers. I thought it was a great idea, giving me three entries to my name, instead of just one. He then informed me the links to Wikipedia entries could be placed directly on a web page, giving their visitors direct access to biographical information about them. Even better! This project would not only provide me writing experience, but make my work available to many people.

My email correspondence with Mr. C alleviated traveling expense and time, but increased confusion and response times. The middle man process was frustrating, but I encouraged myself everyday to keep working hard to complete the shorter entries while waiting for a response to my questions for the company entry. My internship had cultivated several writing opportunities and fostered a strong social connection. I was genuinely happy with my choice to leave teaching to become a full-time writer.

Well, since I had no interest in being a T.A., my internship with Mr. H was put on hold. When I applied for the position, I was under the impression that I would be editing, researching, and improving my writing. The beginning of it stayed true to the ad, but once he started back with his college classes, I spent the entire time revising and adding images to his instructional handouts, reading chapters aloud to him, and typing up the essential information from the readings so he could create tests for his students. I no longer researched and edited his plays, reviews, and articles or created newsletters, which is what I thought the internship entailed.

When we discussed the current status of the internship, he offered me a list of upcoming projects that were geared more to a writer and asked me to get back to him, letting him know which ones were of interest to me and what days I would be available.

I emailed him two days later. I didn't receive a response.

Soon after, I emailed Mr. C the two entries on Denis and Anastasia for final approval. He responded several days later raving about Jeremy Gill's, Delaware County's new Maestro, successful debut and let me know he was waiting for a response from Mrs. Singer. Picking myself up from my fizzled internship with Mr. H, I responded to Mr. C's email expressing my congratulations and hope in landing an editorial internship advertised on Craigslist with MetroKids magazine.

I never received a response.

Since I still hadn't heard from Mr. H, I applied to MetroKids, received a call back from the editor, and started the internship, updating their attractions list online and writing articles for the magazine a week later. Finding this internship that fit my goals renewed my confidence.

Several days later, I sent another email ensuring Mr. C was well and to inquire about the entries' approval.

Still no response.

At this point, I started developing a complex. Were my emails going through? What did I do wrong? Had I unintentionally bruised an ego? Why wouldn't anyone send me a response?

Finally Mr. H emailed me back when I responded to his self-promoting email. I admit I was pretty peeved by his audacity to ignore my email, but expect me to critique his writing. I set aside my emotions, hoping I would find out what was going on, and updated him on my educational and professional endeavors.

He was happy to hear I was keeping busy, asked me how the Wikipedia entries were developing, and passed along his sadness for the ending of my internship. I respectfully told him I was unaware that the internship ended, since he never said anything to that affect. Told him, "In fact, he gave me a list of other projects for me to work on, which I was grateful for, but I never received a response." I also laid out the current circumstances with the Wikipedia entries and asked for his advice. I saw a light at the end of the tunnel, I might find out why he didn't respond to me and determine what happened with the Wikipedia entries.

I ensured my correspondence was professional and lacked anger or accusations, even though I felt his internship was falsely advertised and his behavior was unbecoming.

I didn't receive a response.

Now, I was pissed. Mr. H had no problem during my internship pointing out the improper way I spoke, and educating me on polite social etiquette I should follow when corresponding with contacts and colleagues. Now all of a sudden he can't talk to me? He's above his own advice? I still hadn't received an email back in over two weeks from Mr. C. My irritation was reaching critical level, and I was appalled by the lack of professional courtesy both gentlemen have offered me.

If I did something wrong, I am positive I would have heard about it. Mr. H had no problem telling editors and other contacts he worked with they did something wrong while corresponding with him. So, what happened? Did I hit a nerve? Or was what I did so apprehensive it didn't warrant a response?

Right now I am starting NaNoWriMo and working with my new internship. I lost a few things up to this point, but I gained valuable knowledge that guides me everyday. Whether I ever receive a response or not, I need to encourage myself to keep moving forward, write for myself, and know better opportunities will present themselves.

First Submission

Since I'm cultivating a freelance writing career, submitting my work for publication is Step One, I thought, to determine if my work is worth reading, letting me know if I could succeed. So, I drafted an essay for an online collection of commentary on trials, tribulations, and triumphs in the Philadelphia area called Metropolis.

To get an idea of the site's style preferences, I read a few essays. They ranged from writers discussing their love life to a play-by-play of trash picking in Society Hill to a woman complaining about the misuse of sidewalks by bicyclers, strollers, and alfresco dining in the city.

Thinking of events that occurred to me in the past month or so, I decided to write about a frustrating experience with the professor I intern for in Upper Darby and describe my attempt to steer clear of bruising his fragile, inflated ego.

Once I finished, I realized writing this piece was a difficult undertaking, much harder than writing blogs, prompts, and short stories. My essay had to follow guidelines if I wanted to get the editor's approval for publication. I also wanted to ensure I addressed the topic professionally, approaching it with sensitivity and maturity, and protecting the identities of the subjects, incase they were to read it.

After completing the essay, I reached out to two trusted, well-read friends for revision and editing purposes, and I tightened the essay and began the submission process. I wasn't sure how to go about it, so I read Metropolis' guidelines and a few articles, and decided to introduce myself and explain why I contacted them. Then, I thanked the editor for his time and consideration, and attached the essay.

All of a sudden my confidence was no where to be found. I nervously stared at the send button thinking they might hate my essay. A few minutes passed while I considered whether I should revise it one more time or if I should just abandon the whole idea. Before I could psych myself out, I quickly hit send.

I crossed my fingers and anxiously checked my email every hour for a few days, until I finally got the response. A sense of relief calmed some of the panic, but remember, I didn't open the email yet. I had to get over myself. I took a deep breath and opened it. My fears became reality. The essay was REJECTED!! I read the response with chest pains and an inability to catch my breath:

"We regret it does not meet our needs. It is more of an interior essay -- mostly about your thoughts -- that about an interesting life experience." Senior Editor, Tom Ferrick

First came the devistation. I put myself out there, and they refused to receive me.

Second came the analysis of the email. Well, the rejection was based on the type of essay, rather than my ability to write. I'll take that over being told I suck.

Third came the anger. What was he talking about? I read plenty of essays that came across as more of an interior essay than retelling of an event on the site.

Fourth came the acceptance. Looking back over my essay, he was right. I didn't focus on an event. I lead the readers through my intellectual and emotional journey surrounding the event. So, maybe he was right to reject the essay.

Fifth came the reanalysis of the email. Did this "senior editor" have a typo in his email? That left me with little confidence in him or his web site.

Finally, I put all my emotions aside and realized that rejection is a large part of a writer's life. My journey just began, and this will not be the last time my work is discarded. I also realized I was trying to walk, before I crawled. Since changing career paths from an English teacher to a writer, I realized I didn't have a tremendous amount of writing samples. Actually, I didn't have anything, except papers I wrote in college. Step One: Focus on developing and strengthening my style and building my portfolio. Step Two: Repeat Step One. Step Three: Submit work. The only thing left to do now is get back to writing.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Bittersweet Contest Winner

I woke up to my phone alarm Saturday morning. As I turned it off, I noticed I had an email from Writer's Digest. I quickly opened the email in hopes to find out the results from the Office Swag Giveaway Contest I entered. I read the email as quickly as I could to find out if I had won, and there it was: "the names of all the authors who wrote stories went into the magic hat, and four emerged--Nathan Honoré, Dare Gaither, Laura M. Campbell and Jo O’Connor." I won!

My excitement spread across my face and I bounced around in bed. Upon reading the email more closely, I noticed, although it required participants to send in their response to the prompt, the winners were chosen at random. Disappointment swallowed my joyous celebration.

They didn't even read my response. The winners weren't chosen based on merit? How anticlimactic. Sigh. I laid back down and stared at my ceiling, upset and embarrassed. How could I tell anyone I won a writing contest when it was all random? Then I realized two things: I still won five books I didn't have to pay for and my name was emailed to everyone on the mailing list.

This prompt response was the first piece of fiction I'd written since graduating from Penn State eight years ago. I made myself a New Year's resolution this year to bring writing back into my life, and in the past six months I took several steps, dispelling the fantasy.

Back in May when I joined Philadelphia Writer's Group, I was still teaching, dealing with the stress of 8th graders. My confidence didn't even register on a scale. I immediately signed up to attend a meeting in June. Unfortunately, being a wuss, I didn't show up. Two months later and a few moves up the scale, I finally made it. After three meet ups, I've become part of a community of writers that support and inspire each other.

At the beginning of each meet up, the head organizer, Julius, asks the members to share their successes and failures in their writing life. I shared my contest winning only after speaking with him. He told me that no matter how I won, I was entered into the contest because I submitted my writing. When I stopped to think about it, that was true. I finally put all the daydreaming aside, and actually put words on paper.

As my choices began to push my confidence up the scale, I ripped off the bandaid protecting my fragile ego and submitted this piece to my writer's group for critique. It's time to see what people think of my writing. As my excitement keeps me motivated, I plan to continue my writing, pushing my dreams into existence.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

4:30 am inspiration

I cannot believe I am up this early. Thirst took me over, and while I laid in bed debating if I should get up, I tossed around ideas about my writing.

Since I was a little girl, I had an imagination that would create fantastic worlds I wished I lived in: I was adorned by friends, personified a strong independent spirit, embodied an importance in my community to be rivaled, and of course, all the boys were enamored with me. The ideas worked into chapter books I wrote in between talking instead of paying attention in Mr. Pecuch's 5th grade class. The plot was weak and circular, describing this perfect life I desperately wanted, illustrated with hideous pictures on lined paper. Boy, did I think I was the coolest.

Fast forward 19 years and I am in the same romantically delusional world I created at 11. Writing fascinates me, and I dream of becoming a writer. Unfortunately, reaching this goal, one must remove head from clouds and write.

Well, I wasn't rehired at the urban middle school I taught at last year, so, I took advantage of the free agent opportunity, and into a box my teaching career went. I decided to collect unemployment, found an internship with a college professor/playwright and applied to writing jobs on Craigslist.

I wanted to take a year, supplement my income with writing gigs and decide what path to walk. Go back to school? For what? Become a full-time writer? What would I write? Live in a cardboard box? Most likely. My grand dreams of becoming a published writer and indecision invariably gave me performance anxiety; the pen and keyboard were ready and waiting but my brain hesitated and my ideas fell flat.

After reading Writer's Digest and Poets and Writers on the train to my internship everyday, I concluded writing needed to happen everyday, even if it was awful. One can only better themselves with practice. Ugh, cliches! Once I stood up to the professor, refusing to work on his pedagogical projects as an unpaid TA, rather than an intern learning the craft of writing, I sat at my computer and told myself to type and submit work for prompts on Writer's Digest and for my writer's group.

Words and ideas found their way onto the computer screen and I accomplished step one: Write. I am sure the super short short story I wrote won't receive awards, but my creative flow loosened. My friend Erica helped, too; I bounced ideas off her and she provided critiques, I couldn't be more grateful.

Ultimately, I want to write a mystery novel or a series of mystery novels with a realistic romantic thread weaving the story together. My dreams of becoming a private detective would come alive on the page. A very exciting prospect.

My research began with reading detective noir, a cooking class mystery series and many in between over the past 20 years, totally enthralled with the clues and the chase. A few authors I enjoy: Eric Garcia, Miranda Bliss, Agatha Christie, Lilian Jackson Braun, and Janet Evanovich. These pros have paved a road that I can start my journey, eventually turning off, writing my own style.

So, lying in bed this morning, an idea for a mystery book came to me. I came downstairs, poured a glass of ice water, opened my journal, clicked open my Darth Vader pen and furiously scribbled my ideas across four pages. A productive start.

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