Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Time, Money, and Writing

I feel more or less recovered from all my writing projects I was juggling in August, and I'm thinking now I need to send some poems out and get started on a new project. I should have some time to read this weekend, as long as I take advantage of it and don't spend too much time playing video games or reading "fun" novels.

I really like the last blog entry from the fabulous poet Jeannine Hall Hailey on MFA programs. I look back on the time I spent doing my MFA and PhD, and while I don't exactly regret it, I don't know if it was the best use I could have made of my time. I certainly don't think that getting an MFA will "make you a writer." If you don't write now, you aren't going to write with an MFA. The best I can say for it is that it gives you time and it gives you a community, but a degree program is certainly not the only way you can get either one of those things. Absolutely, it is fun, and you can learn a lot about the foundation of your craft. Also, great writers develop in communities, and it's a great place to grow.

But I also wouldn't trade anything for the life I have now. I have a secure lifestyle, a supportive husband and family, and I can spend my free time doing what I want. Writing what I want. It feels like a great luxury. Although I am sometimes a little envious of my friends in academia, with the smart and creative environment they work in and their weeks off in the summer and winter, I love having my time be my own, and for me, that's perfect.

For the last few days, I've had my finger hovering on the button to make my AWP reservations. It'll be a $1000 splurge, but I've been eager to go to readings and talk with other writers. I'm justifying the hotel bill by promising myself I'll write at least one new poem per night. Honestly, despite knowing there will be parties and people hanging out and lots of fun, I remember how tired I was last time of the endless stream of people. I'll be glad to have somewhere to retreat to (not to mention, glad to have somewhere I can drop off my my stacks and stacks of books).

I think I will finally push the button and lay out my deposit for AWP. I'm looking forward to it in a way that I wasn't last year or the year before. Next I have to lay out my plan of what I'll be doing over the next five and a half months, so I'll be able to show up on February 29 and at least look like I have my act together. Stay tuned for the plan.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

August Wrap Up

Today is the last day of August, and as of yesterday I've finished my 2011 August Poetry Postcard Fest project. So, I have 31 new poem crumbs, perhaps a few of them are workable into something else. Many, though, I think they're not exactly moving in the direction I want my writing to go. I feel like my go-to tack is lazy and boring. I wouldn't want to read a book of poems like that, so why am I writing them? I need a new strategy. Maybe I should try writing knock-offs of poems I admire, not for anyone else to see, but to see what I can learn from them. I miss being in a workshop. I miss that excitement and energy everyone brings every week.

As for Camp NaNoWriMo, I shifted attention to something else about the 10,000 word mark, which means unfortunately I won't meet that particular deadline. I started with a jumbled mess without direction and moved into some hint of order, though I'm not all that interested in the characters or plot I've put together. I'm thinking about November. I may want to scrap everything I've written and start over with this storyline, or maybe I'll start something new. I have definitely enjoyed writing other stories more than this one, and I have to think that ultimately I'll get the most out of a story that I enjoy writing.

I had a conversation with someone in our circle of friends on Saturday. After talking with a friend who had written and sold a couple of books, she was convinced that writing and publishing (maybe even self-publishing) a book was an easy way to fame and riches. It was late and we were in a loud place, so I wasn't really up for disputing her ideas. Most people with that attitude don't even have the patience to finish a novel, much less go to the additional work of revising it, plus sending it to agents or promoting a self-published book. If someone wants to try to write a book, I say go for it. You'll learn far more in the attempt than you ever will talking to people about it. It's pretty unlikely you'll become the next Dan Brown (her hero), but it's possible.

As the month wraps up, I'm not quite sure what I should be doing. I've been stuck reading a lot of books I'm not too crazy about. I'm not very happy with the direction my poetry writing is going, and I'm not at all motivated to submit. I feel like I've been pushing hard for a while without much to show for it. I kind of want to take a little breather, not worry about projects, maybe try to knock off some of the books I'm trying to read. I find it difficult to give up on a book I'm reading that I don't enjoy much. I end up putting it aside, telling myself I'll get back to it later, but it just sits on my shelf. The thing is, I have a huge number of unread books on my shelf right now, many of which I'd really like to be reading. I need to learn to accept just not liking a book as much as I hoped I would.

What are your goals for September? Are you finishing something up, beginning something new, or taking a breath in between?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Time to Be Productive

It feels like I've been ignoring my blog lately, but I confess I haven't missed it much. I've spent the last couple months reading as much as I can and getting out and experiencing things. I've been journaling, but all on paper journals. It has been helpful in working things out in my head, and I know the difference between what's interesting for me to write and what's interesting for other people to read. I've decided that August is going to be a big writing month, well, really the 45 days between now and the end of August.

First off, there's Camp NaNoWriMo. I wanted to do it in July, but I had nothing planned, and I just wasn't prepared to jump off at the end of that spring board. I have an idea simmering in my head that really excites me, though, so I want to spend the next couple weeks writing outlines and planning my characters, so I will be ready to go on August 1.

The other thing I forgot about was the 2011 August Poetry Postcard Fest. I really enjoyed the year-long one a few years back, and I feel like it was really productive for producing some drafts. I'm a tiny bit worried that maybe it will be too tough to write 31 poems in 31 days. I tend to lose steam and need a break. But in this exercise, it's perfectly permissible to write a few early and start sending them out. Then when postcards start coming, hopefully it will be energizing and some new ideas will spark.

Anyone else have any big writing projects planned? How are you preparing for them?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I Have Too Many Books

(Does this count as Confession Tuesday?)

One of the effects of reading a lot of blogs is buying a lot of books. The cool part is that I've read a lot of good books lately, but the not so cool part is that my "To Be Read" shelf is really getting out of control. This is especially bad because books that I really want to read I'm just not getting to, because there's just so darn many of them. I really need to be disciplined and say not one more book is coming into the house until I've read, say, 10 books from my TBR shelf. But I know that if I make that rule, probably I'll just start leaving books in the car or stacking them on my desk at work. Wait--I do have books to be read stacked on my desk at work. Too late! They've been there about a year, because they are related to the class I finished up last May.

If I could at all justify buying a truckload of stuff that would be interesting to read, I would be really tempted by the 2011 Hugo Voters Packet, which SF writer John Scalzi points his readers to in his blog. For $50, you get e-copies of 5 novels, plus a bunch of short stories, novelas, fanzines, graphic novels, and more. It's a great deal for a great selection of some of the best SF of the year. The only thing that keeps me from going for it is knowing I have a ton of science fiction and fantasy that's sitting on my shelf right now that I want to read. Unfortunately, it's easier to buy a book than find time to read it, and the mere act of buying it doesn't mean I've read it and gained anything from it.

On the poetry front, I've bought a lot of new books that have just come out in either 2010 or 2011. Some I've delightedly zoomed through. I seem to have encountered a slow spot with Marilyn Hacker's Names. I love her work, but something about it forces me to slow down and take it in smaller pieces. Still, I hope to finish it today or tomorrow and then move on to one of the other six or ten books I'm working through. One thing I love about not being in school is being able to read whatever I want.

What are you reading these days? Is your TBR shelf as out of control as mine?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Confession Thursday: Organizing Poetry

Even though Tuesday is popular on blogs for confessions, I have a Thursday Confession: I am terrible at organizing my poetry and submission process. I realized last night that I am currently sending around a poem that I had published in 2004. That's just bad record-keeping. Once again, my little index box system has failed me.

Also, I have a lot of poems scattered on different PCs and back-up sites, no full copy of anything anywhere. This makes it really tough to figure out what I have and where things are. Things are complicated by a PC crash I had back in January 2007 and lost all electronic copies of everything I had written prior to that. At the time, I had hard copies of my thesis and dissertation, but I lost pretty much everything I only had e-copies of. So you would really think I would know better, but I've never put together a good system of how to put full copies of originals and backups in places I can work with them.

This has also made it tough to try to organize a book. Although I put together my dissertation as a book, I'm not totally happy with it at this point, and I'm looking to re-imagine a project. Maybe I even want to reimagine what poems I am submitting to magazines. I look at some that have been seen at a whole lot of magazines over the years, and I think maybe they aren't that good, they aren't going to find a home, they don't belong in a book. It's a tough thing to say, but maybe the best thing is to be honest about what I'm working with and be smarter and where I'm spending my energies. I'm trying to look at it like a farmer burning a field before replanting. I'm not planning on starting from scratch, but I do want to start with things worth spending time on.

Having said this, I think my first step is to put together 2 hard copies of what I've written so far, one for home and one for work. Maybe I will even throw drafts in there. Basically, it will be anything worth saving.

My second step will be to figure out how I am going to keep e-copies of things. It's not difficult to email myself a few files or upload them onto Google Docs, but an email isn't exactly editable, and I can't access Google Docs (or any other file storage site) from work. My biggest problem is that I have no way to work on something at the office (the place where I'm most likely to write, given a few spare moments), save it, then work on it at home. Not without saving it as separate files, anyway, and then I'm juggling multiple versions. I end up saving most of my working copies of things at work, which is definitely not smart. Then I have pages of handwritten stuff at home, where it seldom gets finished. If only I could use a flash drive (not allowed at work) or bring my netbook in (also not allowed).

I'm going to have to think about what I should do about that. To those of you who work on multiple computers: how do you keep your files and versions straight? And what's your favorite way of making regular backups?

Also, while I'm confessing, I will say it was me who turned the anti-phishing poster by the bathroom sideways. I got tired of it slouching over on itself because it was too big for the holder. How long is it gonna be before someone notices and changes it, huh?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Throw Another One on the Pile

Honestly, this was supposed to be a quiet week because my boss is out of the office, but it turns out that the pressure of my deadlines is still there. I'm actually kind of looking forward to my class next week (despite thinking that a "business management for government" topic isn't all that relevant to me) since it'll get me out of the office.

National Poetry Month didn't lead me to write as much as I wanted, unfortunately, but I did read a lot, including Becoming the Villainess by Jeannine Hall Gailey. A great book, each poem with a voice interesting in its own right, and a good learning opportunity for me on how a book is put together. It has such cohesion as a group of poems, even though there doesn't seem to be a direct relationship between any as individuals. It's still difficult for me to think about which of my poems would go together into a book, or if I'm putting something together from scratch, what direction to go. It is useful for me to think about writing a book that I would enjoy reading. I feel like all the poems I've written are a haystack of disorganization, though, so it's tough to find any direction at all in them.

I did finish my book for the 2011 TBR Pile Challenge, The Best American Poetry 2003, edited by Yusef Komunyakaa. Yes, that book was sitting on my to-be-read shelf since 2003, and I'm glad it's off. I can't say it was the best poetry collection I'd ever read, mostly because I don't think I care for Komunyakaa's taste. There were a few poems I enjoyed, though some of them I had read before (the problem with reading a collection of poems that were new in 2003). I have the BAP collections for 2009 and 2010, and I do have the goal for myself of reading them in less than 6 years.

For the Poetry x 12 challenge, the requirement for April was to read a favorite poetry collection from childhood. I had intended to reread some Blake, but it didn't get done, and right now I think I'd rather go on to new books that I'm more excited about. The challenge for May is to read a poetry collection from another country. I do have a book on my shelf that fits that requirement, so I think that will be easier to accomplish than last month's goal.

I have been thinking a lot about how much I would like to go on a writer's residency. There seem to be a lot on the coasts and not many in the Midwest, though, which makes it tougher financially to plan on paying the residency fee on top of airfare. I'm thinking of using AWP as a residency of sorts, though. It'll help me justify paying for the hotel, and AWP is such a crazy, intense experience, I think I would appreciate hiding out in my room for an hour or two, without making me feel guilty that I'm missing stuff.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

National Poetry Month: Writing or Reading?

National Poetry Month feels like it is getting plenty of press, lots of places, which makes for interesting reading. Personally, I have been trying to read more, especially poetry, especially since I am behind in the books I was supposed to read in March, though I haven't managed to do as much writing as I wanted to. Will try to make up for that today. It makes me wonder, though: is National Poetry Month better spent writing poetry or reading it? Should you spend it doing things you don't do as much as you should or things that you really enjoy and want to do more of?

Last night I read a big chunk of Neruda's Residence on Earth, which is a re-read for me, but a useful one. Also attempting to make it through Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, which I've owned and attempted to get through for so many years it's embarrassing. I must confess I'm not enjoying the reading of it very much, though there are definitely moments that are vivid and striking. My mission for tonight is to finish both.

I'm not a reader of Oprah's O Magazine, but I have read comments here and there about the poetry issue that just came out. No matter whether I agree or not with the writers she chooses to focus on, I know I am not the audience. I imagine the audience of O Magazine is generally women who might not have read a poem since high school or a general lit class in college. I get that accessibility is important, as well as writing in a voice that the audience can relate to. I only just read Oprah's list "20 Books of Poetry Everyone Should Own," and I am surprised to think that it's actually pretty good. It does have familiar names that everyone read in high school, like Dickinson and cummings. But Rumi and Neruda are classic and beautiful and I never had them in any class, and it's great that real, respected contemporary poets like Heaney and Kinnell are on the list. And absolutely, more people should read O'Hara and Szymborska, because they're both spectacular. There are a few I'm not familiar with--I've never read anything by Deborah Digges and very little by Mary Oliver. Even for me, I think the list is a good mix of the familiar and the unexplored, and even if only a few of Oprah's readers buy one of the books on the list and read it, it means good things for poetry.

In non-poetry related topics, I only just found out that the book Water for Elephants, which is just about to come out as a movie, was originally drafted during National Novel Writing Month. I think that's fabulous, that people can actually see that NaNoWriMo, which is held up by some people as an occasion that thousands of people spew out huge chunks of terrible prose, can actually be used as a great opportunity for drafting a successful novel. Of course, lots of work goes into it even after November, but NaNoWriMo is what you make of it.

And lastly, I found out yesterday that finally, after far too long a wait, another Banana Yoshimoto novel is coming out next month: The Lake. My love for her style is beyond description or even reason. Just knowing that there will be another novel out makes me want to clutch it to my breast and squiggle around with it on the floor, then take 2 days off work to read and reread it until I have assimilated it all. My problems are these: 1) The book does not come out until May 3, and I just might perish with waiting for it, and 2) I would loooove to have it in my hands on May 3, but I don't think I can bring myself to pay expedited shipping or the full cover price of $23.95 to order it in a brick and mortar bookstore. I suspect I will pay the $9.99 for the Kindle edition and then maybe, if I think I will die without having it in hardcover, pick that up used later. While most of the books I read are not on Kindle, the Kindle is great for instant gratification.