Housecleaning and the Writing Life

March 8, 2012

One of the best books I have read recently, about writing, is A Broom of One’s Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning & Life by Nancy Peacock. This is a fabulous, entertaining, funny and well-written book about the writing life. Not a “how to” book as much as a memoir, Peacock writes about the houses she has cleaned, and how she has crafted her work and life as a writer, juggling both jobs. Her writing is lively and humorous, and she has keen insight into what makes us as writers “tick.”   An example of the former, while trying to find work she liked: “All I wanted was a job where I could show up, work, and go home with a paycheck. Oddly, this made me practically unemployable.”  An example of the latter, which I believe may be the most moving passage in the entire book: “Another big lesson is to finally understand that once I am a published writer I will always be a published writer, but that I will also always be an unpublished writer. I will get rejection slips, no matter what the New York Times said about my first novel. And hopefully I will always have material in need of some work,  because if I don’t have the pages I hate I will never have the pages I love.”  That last line gets me. And I hope I remember it when I reach those difficult times in my writing where I doubt myself and my work.

Read this inspiring book!

 

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Keeping a Writer’s Log

September 30, 2009

It seems like many of us struggle with the idea of calling ourselves “writers.” I know that’s true for me, and I know many of my writing friends feel that way too. In a writing group I belong to, one of the great sayings is: “A writer is one who writes.”

I love that phrase. It is simple and inspiring. And unarguably matter-of-fact. Even so, sometimes I still doubt.

One method that I have started using which has helped me immensely in any number of ways is to keep a writing log. No, not a journal. It is not a place to write. Rather, it is a way for me to keep track of my writing.

A typical run of entries might look something like this:

9/30/09 Wrote 2 pages.

9/28/09 Edited 7 pages.

9/18/09 Wrote 2 pages.

9/15/09 Read 10 pages, edited 3.

9/12/09 Cut 4 pages.

And so forth. This technique has helped me so much. First, it keeps me accountable, if only to myself. If I choose to share it with friends (as I have elsewhere), it makes me even more accountable. If they are paying attention, they can tell me “hey – I see you haven’t written anything in the past few weeks – everything OK? Need a jump start?  Keep going, you can do it.”  Or, they might notice that I’ve had a good run, and might cheer me on. Even if they don’t respond in any fashion, it still helps me to be accountable to myself, and to a community of writers.

Second, it’s useful for me to see where my time is going. Have I been mostly writing, or mostly editing?  After a few weeks or months of keeping a log like this, I may be able to notice patterns. I might find that I’m more productive at the end of the month. Or that when I am editing, I move much faster than when I am writing. Or that when progress seems slow, that’s OK, because it will be followed by a strong outburst of activity.

Keeping a log like this also helps keep me in a routine. I know that every night I write, I have to “check in” and make a note of my progress. It’s kind of like the ol’ marks on the wall to mark a child’s growth. These are my marks. Sometimes the growth is tiny and incremental; other times it comes in great bursts.

Finally, what I like best about keeping a log like this is when I tally things up at the end of the month. I come up with some amazing and surprising numbers.  For instance, all along, maybe my progress has been “write 2 pages” or “edit 4 pages” for many days.  Well, at the end of the month, it’s not unusual for me to total everything up and be astonished to discover that I’ve written 60 pages – or edited 80!  Yes, folks, those are real numbers. And I am not a full time writer.

It helps me realize that even just a page a day can add up to a whopping 30 pages by the end of the month. That even the smallest work, if done consistently, can add up, and can get me where I want to go. I can now say, with confidence – I am a writer!

© writingreading, 2009


2-4-6-8, Why do I procrastinate?

February 18, 2009

Ah, yes, my all-too-familiar clingy “friend” – procrastination – is back! Booo!

I’ve realized over the past couple of weeks that my avoidance of working on my book definitely is the symptom of something larger. It has moved from simple procrastination to outright avoidance – and that is serious. The good news is, is that I am still trying to get myself to write. It has not turned into apathy or disinterest. But I have had a distinct inability to simply sit down and do it!

Of course, there are the usual methods for avoiding – which I’ve already enumerated elsewhere.  But it has been happening enough lately, on a consistent basis, that I know Something must be happening.

I think a large part of it is fear. And strangely enough, I think it is “fear of completion.” I still have a long ways to go before I am finished, but I do feel like I am nearing the end stages – I can at last see and believe that I can get it completed.

Probably part of my fear of completion is a very real fear that I won’t know what to do after that happens. The subject of my book (which I never directly talk about here, online) is something that I have had as my “heart’s mission” for years, now. My book has been my passion, in some form, for over a decade. (It’s only over the past two years that I began writing it, however. Because it is non-fiction, the rest of the time was spent in research.) So, maybe it is like the “empty-nest” syndrome. I just simply can’t imagine my life without it.

In any case, fearful of my fear, but determined to overcome it and kick-start my writing again, I did a quick google search on the topic of “why am I afraid to finish writing my book” and found a few good articles on the subject – and they all include remedies!

Linda White Dove has some good advice about changing the parameters of your work. Kind of a “when life gives you lemons..” type of approach. I admit I don’t understand much about the rest of her website, but I did appreciate the article she had about her own struggles with staying on the writing task.

I also really liked what Earma Brown had to say. She has a lot of good tips that are down to earth, understanding, and practical.

And finally, I think I found the information at Copyblogger to be the most helpful, because he writes directly and explicitly about the different kinds of fears we can have as writers.

I’ve printed all of these articles so I can keep them handy the next time I need them. And like the rain and floods, as well as droughts, I know the seasons of writing will come, and change. The tools, tips and suggestions from these authors will help get me through, and get me writing again!

© writingreading, 2009


St. Francis de Sales Day

January 24, 2009
Francis de Sales

Francis de Sales

Today is St. Francis de Sales Day. He is the patron saint of writers. Therefore, he’s a hero to me, even though I’m not really religious and I certainly know nothing about saints.

He was a soldier, lawyer and theologian. The Catholic website says he “studied theology … while getting into swordfights and going to parties.” I love that! What a guy!

Patience is one of his defining characteristics – and for any writer, that’s a must. He also had great confidence in his mission, when others scoffed. Another asset for any writer, especially if you hope to publish.

Not surprisingly, he was a bit of a subversive. When the Calvinists wouldn’t give him the time of day, he got creative and wrote about his Catholic faith, slipping his writings under the residents’ doors – the first use of religious tracts. He was a very persistent man, and that, too, I think, makes him an excellent example for writers to follow.

Eventually, as his influence grew, he got a lot of fan mail – so much so that he often felt overwhelmed in responding to it. But because of his constant, steady work, day in, day out, he simply did what he could and kept going. I like this attitude of persistant, constant, steady work. I know I certainly need that in my own dedication to writing.

Honor St. Francis de Sales, today. Commit anew to your writing regimen. And if you’re the praying sort, you might want to ask him to be on your side!

© writingreading, 2009


Reading Julia Alvarez

July 10, 2008

I thought I’d write today about Julia Alvarez. I’m sure she is a very well-known modern poet, but since the only living poet that I can name is Maya Angelou, I had not heard of her.

I picked up Alvarez’s book of poems entitled The Woman I Kept to Myself – simply because I found the title intriguing. I haven’t had much of a chance to sit and read straight through; I’ve just dipped in and out, here and there, and I found her to be a very gifted and inspiring poet. Besides the gift and craft of any poet, the crafting of words and rhythms, I find the topics she chooses to write about and her way of expressing them extremely interesting, in part, because she brings poetry to the everyday-ness of life.

For example, she writes about visiting a therapist (“The Therapist”), and how the therapist’s technique is to let his patients search out and find their own answers to their problems. She writes of men rising out of manhole covers (“Manholes”), and gives it an unexpected twist at the end. She talks about how she (or the narrator) dreams that her husband has given away all of her headbands that she no longer wears, but how it makes her feel like a part of herself has been given away, to women she does not know. And of course is relieved when she awakes to find her husband soundly sleeping beside her (“Hairbands”).

And then I think my favorite poem is entitled “Tone” – about how she can tell who her husband is talking to on the phone in the next room, just by the way he talks. This poem, in particular, I find touching, not only for the love and craft of the poem itself, but for the closeness of the couple that it portrays.

Again, I’m sure my own words fall short in attempting to do her work justice, but I found her poetry well-crafted, insightful, and inspiring.

© writingreading 2008


Writers groups give life, hope

May 18, 2008

I’ve been reading, occasionally, a book called The Fiction Class by Susan Breen. I rarely read fiction or novels of any sort, so this is a bit of a break for me. I’ve found it an interesting read, so far.

Arabella is a writing teacher, her mother is in a nursing home. The book flows mostly between Arabella’s writing class, and her visits with her mother. It is interspersed with a mostly blank page which contains the writing assignment she’s given to her class for that week. I think that is a clever idea, and is a neat way to draw in the reader of Breen’s book to become a “participant” in Arabella’s class.

Part of what drew me to the book is that there is a thread throughout of Arabella’s “real” life plus her fiction class. That juxtaposition of fiction and reality was what intrigued me. And the exercises neatly sandwiched in.

In the portion I was reading tonight, one of her students becomes suddenly ill during class. Chaos ensues, and come to find out, the student is ill from chemotherapy. Mimi, the chemo-character, pleads with Arabella: “You’re going to tell me I shouldn’t have come to this class today, but I couldn’t bear to miss it.” “When I’m in this class,” Mimi says, “I don’t feel sick.” “I need to be here with other writers. That’s the only way I can survive this thing.”

And though I don’t face anything at all like Mimi does, I believe in her words with all my being. That’s exactly how I feel about a small writing group I belong to. I would have to be pinned under the wreckage of a semi-truck before I would stay away and miss a meeting of that group. It’s just that important.

I hope any writers out there, especially those who might be “tentative writers” or “wanna-be” writers, or those who long to call themselves writers but somehow feel like they haven’t deserved the “title” – find a group where they can come together for support and encouragement and laughter and tears. You will find both your writing and your life enriched because of it!

Addition:

The group I write with is guided by a woman who is an affiliate of Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA). I don’t know if all their affiliates lead groups or not, but it would be worth checking their list.

©2008 writingreading