*Snaps* For Good Decisions

I had a strange sensation while driving into town this afternoon, on my way to run a few simple errands. The night before had been one of those magical, hot, random summer nights filled with friends, dancing, swimming and laughter. 

As I drove, I replayed scenes from the night before, remembering interactions and unexpected faces. My mind buzzed actively and the muscles around my mouth tugged upwards. What is this? I found myself questioning. And then it hit me. Oh right: happiness. 

Last winter I found myself in a Catch-22. I felt, quite literally, stuck in Colombia. I hadn’t made enough money to move on to another city in South America, as I had anticipated. I was emotionally drained from dealing with visas, the uncertainty of moving to a new city without a job of a plan, being immediately targeted as a tourist. I knew I couldn’t stay, but where to go?

My first instinct was money. Follow the money. Everyone in the international teaching world knows that the money is in Asia. I began searching for and applying to jobs from Japan to Hong Kong, Thailand to Malaysia. The money was enticing. But in my heart of hearts, I knew it wasn’t what I really wanted. The problem was, I couldn’t think of any alternative. And so, anxiously, I dove into the applications head first, despite my better judgement. 

It wasn’t until I a conversation I had with an old friend that I started to reconsider. I still remember this as being one the most influential conversations of my life. Come home, she told me. And finally, I allowed myself to listen. 

It wasn’t an easy decision. I felt embarrassed to be returning home, jobless, with much less money than when I’d left, and only a year and a half into what I had imagined to be a several year long adventure. I didn’t want to look like a failure. 

Thankfully, I’m lucky to have a family that is both understanding and supportive. They have helped me get back on my feet and finally start to pursue my passion: writing. I am so grateful for the wonderful friends who have helped me through life’s difficult decisions. 

Five months after my return, I have never felt more certain that I made the right decision. Not only is this place my home, but it is an inspiring community for writers. I have met so many people of all ages who share similar interests and pursuits. 

At times, I think about what my life would be like at this moment if I had taken a job that brought me to the other side of the globe, far from the people and places that make me who I am. I may have been wealthier in some ways, but I truly believe that my quality of life would have been much poorer. 

Driving this afternoon, the sunImage shining on beautiful green pastures on the side of the country road, a smooth breeze breathing through the open windows, I identified that peculiar sensation: I am exactly where I am supposed to be. 

 

More Than Paper

It has been nearly a month since my last post. No excuses. My emotions in these weeks have run the gambit from frustrated to elated. For a while, I seemed eager to distract myself from my writing with any interesting and fun activity that presented itself. 

In the depths of one of my more worried moments, I turned to my Writing Sage, as I have come to think of her. I told her I felt lost, directionless. Having given up so much to pursue writing, I felt like I had not only lost the path, but I had lost the spark. 

My Writing Sage just turned to me and smiled. We were sitting on the couch. We had had more than a few glasses of wine. She said to me, writing is so much more than what comes out on the page. It’s more than what we write down on paper; a major part of the creative process is internal. 

New experiences, laughing, swimming, being with friends, working, sweating, crying. All of these things do not produce writing in and of themselves, but I do strongly believe that they facilitate good writing and good stories. 

That night, my Writing Sage helped me understand than even when I am not producing as much writing as I would like, I am still growing in ways that will one day be reflected on paper. In the meantime, it’s important to realize that all experiences help shape who we are as people and as writers. 

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A Stab at Poetry

Cover of "Writing down the Bones"

Writing Down the Bones

Fiction has always been my forte. I usually stick to what I know. But recently I have gotten into the practice of doing free writes in a journal. This was a suggestion I picked up from the great book, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.

The act of putting pen to paper is so different than writing on a computer. I found it refreshing, tapping into a different part of my creative brain. I would like to share a free write that I did on the bus home from New York City last weekend. I decided to type it up in the form of a poem.

This is something vastly different from the work I usually do and I am looking forward to any comments or suggestions that my fellow bloggers would like to share. As always, and in any capacity, Happy Writing.

4/14/2013

I dreamt of the terrifying fear of jumping off the high dive.

I swore I was in love.

I was so happy

And woke up feeling so sad.

I am powerless in your presence.

I feel pain and hurt and I haven’t seen you for years.

Does this make me weak or does this make me a butterfly?

Am I transforming?

I no longer know if I have wings or if I have toes.

I apologize for my inadequacies.

I apologize for my restless, ruthless emotions.

Why should I shun my failures?

Why shouldn’t I sit on a park bench with nothing but an empty coffee cup?

I like to feel the subway rattling below me.

Last night in bed I felt it again, but further removed

No physical shaking, just a soft noise

Like a moan or a creak of the bed.

Was that it?

Is that all he has for you?

Maybe there is more, but I won’t stay around long enough to find out.

I want to feel the bones under my skin.

How does the sun look in your eyes when you wake?

Will I ever get the chance to know that beautiful secret?

There are so many cars.

But are there as many cars as gravestones?

I would count but I don’t have the time.

My time is more important than money.

I want to lick a penny.

I want to write until the bones in my hand turn to jelly.

New York is there-

On the other side of that hill.

The wind blows all the reeds in the same direction

Except one.

A Canadian Goose stands alone by the side of the highway.

The Turkey Vulture makes fun of its long neck.

I love your long neck.

I want to bite till I draw blood.

I want you to remember me forever.

Why are people biking?

Why is everyone exercising and smoking cigarettes?

I see your face everywhere I look

But it’s only a memory and you are a stranger.

Billboards ask me questions that make me self-conscious.

I always make the wrong decisions.

Where am I going now?

Best not to ask.

It’s strange to see green again, like I don’t believe in Spring.

Soccer fields show their wear with bare patches of dirt.

How does mine show?

I am transparent.

I am a dandelion in a hurricane:

Blown Away.

I am a circle and you are a square.

I hate your corners.

I want to smooth down your edges so we can finally fit together.

I slept until Hartford where I got off to buy a coffee,

To scold my insides back to life.

Remember me: Life?

No, give me more death.

Please, I’m not ready for this shit.

I’m not ready to be surrounded by passengers asking me the same question fifty different ways.

I’m not ready to go back into the woods with two people in love

And a bunch of animals who won’t show themselves. 

My First Public Reading!

Last night I decided to attend a reading in Northampton, Massachusetts. I found the blurb in a local paper. It said: Writers Night Out, hosted by a group called Straw Dog Writers Guild.

I went, expecting to listen and maybe meet some other like-minded people. However, when I got there, the woman running it said that it was open for anyone to read. I was unprepared, and told her I would sit out this first reading.

As I sat, sipped my beer and waited for the show to start I thought,” Why not? What do I possibly have to lose by doing this, except my dignity?” So I went out to the car, got my computer (I never go anywhere without it these days) and put my name in the hat.

I got picked to read second. I was nervous but also thrilled. These are the kind of experiences I need to be having, need to be getting comfortable with. The reading went well. My legs were shaking throughout the 5 minutes. But it felt great to do it.

Along with my other writing goals, my new goal is this: attend some kind of literary event every week. Even in our small Pioneer Valley, there are lots of amazing events. Even if I don’t get to read, just being in the audience, networking and being involved in a literary community will be very rewarding.

I didn’t get a picture of myself, but I promise next time I will.

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My camera is terrible!
Next time I’ll get a picture of myself.

If any other bloggers out there have favorite literary activities, suggestions or comments, I would love to hear from you!

Obsession-Every Writer’s Goal

Since I’ve been back in the U.S. I’ve felt some frustration with my writing. I was doing a lot of reformatting, I was scrapping a bunch of writing I actually liked. Overall I felt uneasy and unenthusiastic about my manuscript.

Maybe I was getting burnt out. I lacked direction. I had so much material but wasn’t sure how to turn that into a book. I took a break, almost two weeks I didn’t touch it. I went to New York. I saw friends, I partied, I didn’t write.

I’m happy to say, since then I’ve really hit a stride. All the “thinking” I’ve been doing is paying off. I have a much better structure for the novel, which includes only the most necessary parts. The pace is fast, exciting, not bogged down with extraneous plot lines.

I’ve finally gotten back to the point where, as a writer I feel completely obsessed with the piece. I think about it when I’m not writing, I replay scenes in my mind, dialogues, I work on character traits. I take every opportunity I can to write, edit, revise. In my opinion, as a writer, this state of euphoric obsession is exactly where I want to be.

In the midst of this, I’ve made a few important decisions which I feel happy about.

First, I have decided to break the book down into three “parts”. I’ve found these breaks naturally in the material, and I like how it further divides the manuscript. The first part has thirteen chapters, each fairly short. I am now working on formatting the second part.

Also, I have decided to add several segments with different narrators.The majority of the manuscript is written in third person. Recently I have added several pieces from different first person narrators.

This serves two purposes: First, it makes the narrative more interesting and varied. I get to experiment with different voices. And for the reader it keeps them on their toes. Secondly, it helps to fill in important information gaps that otherwise would be hard to fit in.

Personally, my favorite novels usually have several different points-of-view, different narrators, different voices. I find it more interesting, a more complete and satisfying experience as a reader.

To other writers (or readers!) out there, what is your opinion on different narrators in one novel. Do you enjoy it? Find it difficult to follow? Distracting? I would love to hear from you. And as always, Happy Writing!

Defining a Work Space

Working and living in the same place can be difficult. When I’m trying to work there seem to be endless distractions. When I’m trying to relax I end up feeling guilty for not writing.
Separation, a friend of mine suggested.What you need is a defined place to write, and then you won’t be feeling such anxiety at home. Sounds good. But it’s not like I have a writing office I can pop into every day. I miss the discipline that comes with an actual work place.
I have always been skeptical about getting into a routine of “going out” to write. It’s a distraction, it takes away from the process of writing, it becomes a drawn out ritual.
But, something had to give. The writing at home thing wasn’t working. So I decided to give it a try. For the next few weeks I decided I would set aside three or four hours every day to “go into town” and write.
There are abundant coffee shops and libraries in this small town. And believe it or not, people are not just socializing but working too. So I decided to try it out. I’m only on day two but so far I’m liking the results. I feel more motivated and productive and when I get home I don’t feel the weight of disappointment.
A dollar seventy five for a cup of coffee isn’t going to break the bank. And if it starts getting the creative juices flowing then it’s worth it. And farther down the road, once I get back into my stride I’ll be happy to shift back to writing at home. But right now it seems like just the change that I needed.
I’d love to hear back from other writers about navigating their own creative work spaces. As always, Happy Writing!

The Hardest Virtue

I have to admit, I am not the most patient person. From a young age I have had this problem: I try something new, I expect to succeed right away, and when I don’t I get frustrated and usually quit.

I was even given a nickname that describes this trait: Instant Elena.

That’s what my dad says every time he sees me getting anxious and upset about something I haven’t given its due time. Don’t be Instant Elena.

It’s been a life long lesson; something that, embarrassingly, I still struggle with. Why I have this self-confidence that I should be able to succeed (and right away!) at anything I try my hand at is beyond me.

It’s delusional. Any craft worth learning takes times, diligence, hard work, and yes, patience. Why would it be any different with writing? I know this is something I want, and I’m willing to put in the work. But every now and then I have to remind myself not to be Instant Elena.

It may not happen in one year. It may not happen in ten. And that’s alright. I know I have miles to go before I get to place where I’m ready to publish. But even if I take babysteps, hopefully one day I’ll get there.