Thursday, November 18, 2010

I'm closing in on 30,000 words for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which finally brings me back up to speed with my daily word target. Clearly I am distracting myself by blogging, but I'm fairly confident I can get through today's remaining 2,700 words this afternoon. I think I will try to keep writing some over the weekend, just because it's really tough to bank out 5,000 words, several days in a row, as I'm trying to catch up.

In some ways, this year has been less fun, because usually I spend October thinking good and hard about what I would really enjoy writing. And then usually I come up with something that's fun, dramatic, emotionally evocative, whatever it is that I'm interesting in doing. This year I didn't have so much time to plan ahead. I started with the barest idea of a main character and plot, along with a list of names for supporting characters, not the usual outline I usually try to spend October creating. I'm finding it a lot tougher going, and what I'm creating is by definition less cohesive. It isn't quite so bad as a novel-length free-write, but I find I'm in a "try anything" mode. I'm working in small bites, tossing in any idea or scene that comes to me. In theory, I want to wrap everything up at the end, but perhaps it won't turn out like that at all. Maybe I will end up with a big collection of words without any cohesion, but I will still have learned things from the process.

Lately I have had a few ideas for poetry writing projects floating through my head. Of course, those are great (and I really need to be more discipline, thematic stuff I'd like to work through, or stuff inspired by some of what I'm reading right now. Unfortunately, I simply do not have the energy for an additional project right now, because I know that if I put down this novel for even a week, I'll never finish it. I'm thinking of taking January as a month where I tackle a big writing project again. Of course, it might be December, but maybe I'll need to take a little while to plan.

What I'd really love to do in January is another year with the Poetry Postcard Project. It is a list of addresses that you work your way down, sending out a poem on a postcard once a week to the next person down on the list. The list is still up of everyone's addresses, but after I did a year of it in 2009, I didn't hear a peep. Truthfully I only got 16 cards (they are all still on the wall by my desk) while I sent out 48 (I didn't quite make it to December), but I still have the 48 poems I wrote that year, and it seemed like a good reminder to write regularly.

Does anyone know if a yearlong project like that is going on anywhere?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I Am Jealous of Your Deadlines

A recent entry at the 32 Poems blog has a long list of poetry contests with deadlines in October and November.

Seeing lists of poetry contests makes me feel anxious. I feel like I'm a complete slacker, like I should be capable of juggling the thousand things that everyone else seems to be doing.

Maybe deadlines make me feel anxious.

I have to remind myself that priorities that I decide on are mine, and I don't need to feel guilty or feel like I'm missing out on something just because I choose to prioritize other things. It lists 14 prizes, and according to the fees listed, it would cost $305 to enter them all. Surely most people submitting would not enter them all either. They make their choices and prioritize where their time, money, and effort will go.

National Novel Writing Month is in November. The challenge of writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days is something I enjoy, and I have said that I want to do it again this year. I have seen some people are doing a 20 page poetry challenge in November. Also, a fun idea, though I think I like better the weekly "Poetry Postcard" challenge I did last year. It takes a longer period of dedication, but at the end of it you get 52 drafts.

I do not have a full book manuscript I am satisfied with enough to send out. I have a chapbook manuscript, but not a full length book. It is certainly possible for me to edit one, and I should absolutely take the time to do so, but that is a longer project than an afternoon's work.

Also, my husband and I are newlyweds. I need to concentrate on settling into a normal household routine that will be good for our relationship, after things got all crazy from planning a wedding for the last 10 months. Not to mention, I have a list of half a hundred things that I wanted to do but kept putting off because I couldn't take on a new project. Most of these, like setting up a small office in our guest bedroom (formerly "the wedding room") and brewing some beer, require a certain outlay of money and also the time, energy, and concentration to actually get it done. We moved into our house last September, and I feel like we barely got settled before the wedding stuff happened. Let's have some nice, normal "nesting."

I need a creative project. My brain needs it, my soul needs it. And I don't need a dozen creative projects--I just finished doing that with all the wedding foo. Let me just be selfish and self-absorbed for 30 days and write a fun, ridiculous novel. In December, I can do things like reorder my manuscript and replace all of the ancient faucets in the house.

So, I know I am probably missing a hundred deadlines by not submitting a single thing in November. The editors will have to pick a wonderful manuscript that's not mine. I need to set my own priorities for my projects, and as aware as I am of the "opportunity cost" of my choices, I can't feel guilty about them.

What is your project or projects for November? Are you giving up anything to do them?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

NaNoWriMo and Other Projects

The wedding is over, thank goodness. I am infinitely relieved not to have to go through any more planning or buying things to please other people. No matter how much I complain about the DJ or certain other vendors that didn't live up to their promises, the only thing that absolutely had to happen on that day did--we got married. I'm still inclined to wish for a week I could do nothing but sleep, although I'm finding we're nearly as busy now in the weeks after the wedding as we were in the month leading up to it.

Also, I can't quite believe that I didn't post at all on this blog in the month of September. I believe that I intended to on various days, but there were other things that had to get accomplished, and so something had to give. On the one hand I'm exhausted from dealing with all of the deadlines, and on the other I would really like to do some creative things... even if now I'm prioritizing relaxing.

It's somehow surprising, but it is already October 26, just 6 days away from the start of National Novel Writing Month. I have that project pinned up as something I would like to get to, but as of now I have no idea about what sort of idea I would like to use. I also know that I need to do a certain amount of planning (chapter outline, main characters and conflicts, a list of names) or I won't get very far. I've read some enjoyable books lately, so perhaps I will start with what I liked about them and use that as a foundation.

One project I think would be interesting would be if several people put together an outline with a set of main characters and central conflict, then each person took off with their novel separately. Let's say we had a guy named Bob Stickney. One day his dog Bender gets run over by a car, his girlfriend Beth Ann leaves him, and he wins $100,000 in the lottery. It would be really interesting to see how the main characters changed, what plot twists developed, and what minor characters sprung up. Of course, I'd need at least one other person who would be willing to tackle this. What do you think? Anyone interested?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Valued commodities.

Trying to catch up on my writing blogs today, and I've seen a number of discussions about literary journals--what journals you read or think are good, and how many of them are struggling to stay viable in this difficult economic climate. I suspect many of my opinions about this or that journal is a number of years old. I even have a stack of unread journals (next to my stacks and stacks of unread books) that I picked up at the last AWP Conference I attended, yet I haven't gotten to them. I most often make time to read for a few minutes every night before I go to bed, but that's still slow going.

Of course, to say something like "I wish I could ____, but I don't have time" is a cop out. You have time for the things you make time for. If you make things like writing, reading books, exercising, cooking healthy meals, spending time with your family, etc., priorities in your life, you will make time for them. Still, I have six more weeks before my wedding, where every few days I seem to break down because of all of the projects I have made myself responsible for.

Yet I would definitely subscribe to more journals if in that subscription was the hour or two it took to read the journal. I have bought some amazing-looking books this summer and have had time to read almost none of them. It must be my fantasy that if I buy the book, I will somehow make the time to read it, and therefore have a few minutes of quiet to sit and relax. If I subscribe to some journals, does that mean I will force myself to make time to read them?

Here are the journals I am thinking about subscribing to:
Field Magazine. $16/year for 2 issues. Field always seems to be one of those journals that I pick up occasionally but really enjoy something in it.
32 Poems. $14/year for 2 issues. Sure, a hipster mag, but there's great thinking material.
Fence Magazine. $17/year for 2 issues. Their content always seems fresh and new, but sometimes I think it's a little uneven, too.
The Paris Review. $40/year for 4 issues. Is anyone allowed to like PR anymore? I know they just went through a big kerfuffle where they rejected a bunch of work they had previously accepted. And really, what if what I liked about PR was the previous editor?
Prairie Schooner. $28.00/year for 4 issues. Consistently good, though never that experimental.

So that's $115 if I wanted to subscribe to all of them for a year. Or just $47 if I only did the 3 cheapest ones. I think it's good to pay money to support the things you find beautiful or interesting. If no one forks over any money, the beautiful and/or interesting things cannot sustain themselves and then no one can enjoy them. But I still think these magazines should consider including an hour or two of time with each issue so that they won't just sit on the shelf. If you were sending time through the mail, would you fold it up and stick it in an envelope? Would it be wrapped up in a ball like string? Stoppered in a bottle like perfume?

What literary journals do you subscribe to? Which ones do you not subscribe to but think you should? Among poetry, money, and time, which is your most valued commodity?

Friday, August 27, 2010

I'm not the bread and the knife. Not even close.

My fiance and I picked up our wedding bands last night. Despite a month of hassle from Jared "the Galleria of Jewelry", who managed to screw up David's ring three times, it did feel really good to have the rings in our hands at last. So much of wedding planning is about the party--the food, the colors, the music, etc. It's nice to have a reminder that the whole point of the wedding is the actual marriage, the promises we make to each other and what the rings symbolize. While thinking of the wedding as an event makes me nervous, I can't wait to be married.

Two of Jared's three screw-ups were related to the inscription, which is from a line from a poem by e.e. cummings that we are having read at the ceremony. Yup, one was a capitalization error (and the first time they left the first word off entirely). My wedding band was ordered from Rogers & Hollands, and while they stumbled a little over the capitalization, the engravers contacted the store to clarify it, and the band was done correctly the first time.

It's important to me to have a poem read at the ceremony, something beautiful and artful. Love poetry is tough because the sentimentality usually makes me uncomfortable. But every time I read this poem, I feel a little flutter, because it is so beautiful and simple, and it expresses a sentiment that I want our marriage always to embody. Can you guess which e.e. cummings poem I chose to have read?

I got to thinking about this because this morning a Facebook friend posted a Youtube video of a 3-year-old reciting the poem "Litany" by Billy Collins. I can't watch videos at work, but I'm sure the kid in the video is both cute and hilarious. I did Google "Litany," though, and read it.

Generally, I find Colllins' work clever but empty, and this poem is no exception. It is a poem which mocks an overused trope in love poetry, and while I am no fan of either overused tropes or love poetry, there is something about it that makes me uncomfortable. Does language Collins mocks edge too close to what I love about the cummings poem we picked for our wedding ceremony? There are few if any rules that cannot be broken in poetry--the reason many people repeat something badly is because a few people did it extremely well. Should I be grateful to Collins for pointing out how more recent poems have cheapened the language cummings used in 1958? I doubt he was the first to use that turn of phrase, but a lot of mid-twentieth century poets used language that no one could get away with today. Or do I just wish that Collins' poem was simply... better?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Confession Tuesday

I realized this morning I had a $2.00 off coupon that I forgot to use. Of course, that is exactly what Jewel hopes I will do, which is better than putting an item on sale, because then they never have to pay out for their promotion. What this illustrates to me is that I have too many things I'm trying to keep track of, and I'm overpaying for things because of it.

I have insomnia caused by anxiety due to wedding projects. The more my fiance puts off things he says he is going to do, the deeper my wedding-insomnia-anxiety becomes. If he will not do these things (i.e., call his friend for his wife's name, etc.), I will have to do them. If he will not help pick church music, I will have to do it by myself. At least then it will be done.

I have had a headache for 4 days.

I really need a day off work where I can get some of these things done that are killing me.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Returning from the Flood

On Friday I actually did accomplish sending some poems out, some to magazines I had been meaning to for almost 2 months. On the one hand, this tells me I need to send work out more often, on the other, it annoys me how long it takes. I used to be able to print out paper copies of all my poems, tweak cover letters, and print out addresses on envelopes, all in about 3-4 hours for about 10-12 packets of poems. On Friday it took me 3.5 hours to send out 2 packets and a chapbook submission--electronically. The problem is, every magazine that takes electronic submissions has a different process and requires a lot more than changing an address and stuffing envelopes. While I love the Internet, in some ways I prefer the old paper process.

Our lovely suburb of Westchester had some flooding problems this weekend. We got a few trickles of water in our basement but feel lucky; some friends of ours had 5 feet of water in their basement. It feels like something of a close shave, since we bought our house last summer, and we spent a lot of July 2009 looking at houses in the areas that were flooded.

On Sunday I felt flooded on another front--everything having to do with the wedding planning. All of these decisions and money to be spent feels overwhelming. This might be in no small part because I keep putting off things, so they feel like they're piling up. I decided that I need to just get moving on these things, so that as much can be considered "done" as possible. It may be a fantasy that I will have virtually everything done a couple weeks before the wedding, but I certainly don't want to put off everything and then having a breakdown! Basically, I need to stop saying "Ooh, I should do that," and start knocking this stuff out. Buy the stuff that needs to be bought, make the decisions that need to be made.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Things I'd Like To Do Before the Summer Ends

IttyBiz has an interesting article on eating an elephant one bite at a time, that is, tackling an impossibly huge task one step at a time, just by jumping in and doing the first job that needs doing, then moving on to the next, etc. It's a good reminder that you don't have to have everything worked out in advance. Sometimes the toughest thing is just getting started, getting the momentum working for you instead of against you.

My to-do list is filled with things that have to be decided, purchased, or just plain done by certain dates. If you've ever planned a wedding, you know how this is. Every vendor you work with needs a certain amount of lead time, you're dealing with delivery time, you have to purchase shoes before the dress fitting, etc.

If I was not planning a wedding, I would have a whole lot more time to do things I just want to do, party-planning aside.

1) I am going to knock out the books I cleared off my to-be-read shelf. Either I will read them or I will read enough of them to know I shouldn't bother, but one way or another they will find another home besides the top of my dresser. This amounts to a few hours here and there, but it can be tough to find them.

2) I will brew a batch of beer. This one intimidates me, because it involves buying supplies and equipment and doing something for the first time. It also involves planning, and since all of my planning energy seems to be taken up right now, I haven't gotten this done. But other than the shopping trips this involves just and afternoon's worth of work. Doable.

3) I need to get into the habit of sending out work. I have some out right now, but a few packets came back and I need to send them out again. I have tomorrow off, so that looks like a good opportunity.

Hey elephants! I'm lookin' at'chu.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Confession Tuesday

It's Tuesday. Time to come clean.

1) I really did intend to get a lot of wedding things out of the way on Friday and Saturday, but problems came up and things didn't get done. We didn't get the rehearsal dinner space saved, because I'm not happy with the pizza place's basement party room and too many people have complained about the space at the restaurant I want to have it. We did not get the wedding bands purchased, though admittedly they are picked out. Invitations are not finalized, because we are missing certain pieces of information. I continue to put off contacting our florist about pricing out things like a church runner, flowers for the cake, and table center pieces.

2) The past two Sunday nights, I have messed up in orders I have placed, not noticing as extra charges have been tacked on or if promised discounts were appropriately applied. This is me being careless and wanting to get things done (to a degree, not wanting to do them at all, just wanting them to BE DONE).

3) I haven't been making to-do lists lately because I end up not doing 9 out of the 10 things on them. But without lists, things don't end up getting done either. I need a new way of making sure things get done. Advice?

All of my guilt is tangled up in buying and planning. Once again, I remind myself to simplify, delegate, and go for easy decisions. I know I will be happier with a wedding day that is less harried, more serene, so I can grab a few moments to actually enjoy it.

New Poem Monday

I sometimes find I miss being in a poetry workshop. At the time I left school, I was pretty much done with workshops--done as in D-U-N done. I knew what had to be done with a poem once I thought about it some. Many times in workshops I would get advice from people who didn't understand what I was going for or they would say "Great! Love it!" which isn't particularly helpful either.

But this is Monday's revision effort, based on a draft from a couple months ago. I suspect it isn't done yet, but I think it needs a little air.

Think Again

Proofs can be stuffed into a satchel;
if only one could carry around
understanding in a canvas bag.
In a book untouched for fifteen years,
I find an old note used as a bookmark.
The back has half a recipe for
your mother's green bean casserole,
breaking off mid-word. We launch
and return, reserves reduced to fumes.
Call me Flash Gordon, a satellite
whose orbit always returns me to you.
I lace up my clodhoppers and step
across this cluttered earth, hauling
ledgers filled with figures and formulae
to justify enumeration: one, two, three--
bang. No matter how I twist the page,
memories reinforce the connection.
I am as familiar with your life today
as I am with the surface of the moon.

Questions, comments?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

What I'm Reading

Several weeks ago, I took a stack of books off my to-be-read shelf and moved them to my dresser. They were books that had sat on my shelf for about 15 years on average, and I was tired of looking at them. I wasn't even sure if I wanted to read them, but I was certain that I wanted them to be done and off my shelf. Then hopefully sent to Paperback Swap or sold on, where I'd end up getting more books... but hopefully ones I was actually interested in reading.

I finished the following books:
Collected Poems by H.D.
All My Road Before Me: The Diary of C.S. Lewis 1922-1927
C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table and Other Reminiscences by James T. Como
The House of Seven Gables by Nathanial Hawthorne
Tibetan Meditation: Practical Teachings and Step By Step Exercises by Tarthang Tulku
several volumes of Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE by CLAMP

I'm still reading:
We the Living by Ayn Rand
A Floating Life: The Adventures of Li Po: An Historical Novel by Simon Elegant
Dreamfall by Joan D. Vinge
Collected Poems by Yevgeny Yevtsushenko
Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath

Haven't yet started:
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
In the American Grain by William Carlos Williams
A Perfect Vacuum by Stanislaw Lem

I feel stalled out on these books, and I really want to throw myself into some trashy fantasy or science fiction novels. Even Dreamfall, which is classic cyberpunk, feels boring right now. I really can't stand Ayn Rand, but I can't say she's a boring writer. A Floating Life should be the easiest to knock off because it's the shortest, but it has its lulls.

For the past couple months, every quiet day I can spend at home, I usually spend it reading. I'm in a phase where I want to take in as many books as I can. If I could swallow them whole or sleep with them under my pillow and soak them in that way, I would. I seek out things to read while I'm at work. I'm absolutely loving T.A. Pratt's serialized novel Broken Mirrors, the 5th book in the Marla Mason series. (I read, I donated, and you should too!) The next book I might tackle is Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow. There's so much great stuff out there, but I also feel this need to take in as much as I can, regardless of quality, as long as it entertains me on some level, however slightly.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Accomplishment Friday

I often find lately that I miss doing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). NaNowriMo is a project in which one commits to writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, the month of November. I wrote my first novel in 2002 while simultaneously studying for Level 3 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Exam. I completed the novel but failed the exam... which suits me fine, actually.

I miss the sense of having a project going in my head, as well as the sense of accomplishment from meeting my word goals and being on target with getting something done. As much as I want to write, though, the looming sense of wedding deadlines keeps me from really immersing myself in a project. There is too much money involved, too many people I'm accountable to with regard to this wedding, not the least of which is my fiance David. A wedding isn't the most important thing in the world, but it's certainly the biggest party I'm ever going to throw in my life, and I'm not what you'd call a natural-born party planner.

Writing a novel is more fun than planning a wedding. You don't have to listen to anyone else's opinions (at least in draft stage), and you don't have to please anyone but yourself. There's a lot less stress with money involved in writing a novel. As long as you have something to write on (a PC, a typewriter, a notebook), you're off to the races. There's no agonizing over whether you can afford to buy this or that, which fits with the theme. If something fits your novel's theme, you just write it.

All of the things I've been working on this week for the wedding seem to be still in progress. We haven't made a decision yet on the rehearsal dinner location, the invitations, the wedding bands, or the ceremony music. We did finally get our engagement photos back, and they turned out pretty well. David and I are going in to make the final decisions on picking out the wedding invitations tonight and hopefully shop for wedding bands. Reception dinner tasting is tomorrow. Hopefully by tomorrow afternoon many things will be resolved.

Still, I remember last year when I was doing the Poetry Postcard project, writing a poem a week (more or less). They're doing one for August this year, but I don't think I will be able to do it. I feel an acute sense of responsibility when it comes to taking on a project like that--if I say I am going to do it, I'm darn well going to do it. As it is, I know how uninspired I feel and how generally stressed out with looming deadlines and the fear of forgetting something.

One thing I did accomplish this week was starting this blog, which I had been considering doing for quite a few months. I don't know if it will turn into anything of value, but I won't know until I try.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


A lot of compromise is involved in planning a wedding. Unless you are marrying someone who has no interest at all in the appearance or events of your wedding day, you are going to want certain things, the other person is going to want certain things, and decisions are going to have to be made.

Ironically, though, the more I try to compromise, the more I'm finding we are spending. Some decisions are binary: you are only going to have one wedding reception, so you only get to choose one venue. Some things are geared more towards the bride or the groom, so it's clear who should make the decision: usually, the bride picks her dress, so there's not a lot of discussion from the groom involved.

Whether or not to spend $500+ for a limo, though, simply adds another line item to the budget and another vendor to worry about. It's a challenge to say I want decisions made so I don't have to handle everything, but I also want my wedding day to be as stress-free as possible. I want to make decisions now which will make the 48 hours leading up to my wedding very simple and straight-forward, where responsible people are taking care of things and I can just show up and say "It looks beautiful!"

There are so many details to spend money on for a wedding. I'd like to say that the ones I want are ones I can put in an expert's hands and trust that they will use them to best effect. I have a list as long as my arm of things I need to buy before the wedding, yet I keep yearning to simplify. If I'm spending money on something, I want someone besides me to know it's even there. Does any wedding guest really care about chair covers or fanciness of centerpieces or monogrammed napkins? Simplify, simplify, simplify.