Well, yesterday I met my goal for May. I submitted to the Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers. I wrote a short story, obviously, about a girl, a boy, riding bikes, and Eastern Diamond-back Rattlesnakes. We’ll find out how it does in a few months.
I also submitted to the Baltimore Review writing contest. I submitted a Creative Non-Fiction piece on How to Make a Red Sauce.
First of all, the craziest thing happened. On Wednesday, I, stupidly, walked my daughter to an activity 1.6 miles away from my house. We were running a few minutes late, so I decided to shrug off common sense and wear my brand new shoes without socks. Dumb. I knew I’d pay for it, but I’m a runner, and I’ve had blisters millions of times. No big deal.
After getting home that night, the blisters were no big deal. On Thursday they were in a little pain – I mean, I had four big blisters. But they just felt like four big blisters. Then on Thursday evening, they started to hurt. I mean, really they hurt. Oh, I should probably mention that 1) I drained my blisters with a needle that I didn’t take the time to sterilize; 2) After draining the blisters, I didn’t bother putting band-aids on them, and then went to the library, supermarket, and all sorts of other errands wearing flip-flops. (Dumb, dumb, dumb).
Later on in the evening, my foot started to hurt very badly. In about 45 minutes, my toe went from totally normal, if only a little pinkish, to a dark, angry red. It was throbbing and swollen. Something wasn’t right. I kept trying to drain the blister, I soaked it. I was getting worried. I couldn’t even walk on my foot. Instead of feeling like I had a blister, I felt like I’d had my pinky toe smashed by a hammer.
My husband was out, and when he got home, I told him that something was wrong with my foot. Usually, I ignore common sense and little messages from my body (obviously). The pain had grown to the point where I realized, “maybe my body is trying to tell me something.” yeah.
I called a friend of mine who is an artist and a nurse. She agreed (at 9:44 PM) to let me come over so she could look at my feet.
“They are pretty mad. Not completely angry, but very mad,” She told me. She instructed me to soak them in salt, put this Mom’s Stuff Salve on them, and then wrap them up. She also told me that if they started itching or if the redness expanded, then to go to the emergency room.
“I think you caught it just in time,” she explained.
So, I did as she instructed and went home. The entire time I was thinking, “I better be able to get to the concert on Friday night!!!” (One of my friends had an infection recently on her hand – MRSA or something – and she had to be admitted into the hospital for a few days. I think that I caught my infection in enough time for my body to heal without the aid of super-antibiotics.
Okay. The point is: I nearly missed my concert because I’m too lazy to get a pair of socks and too lazy to sterilize needles.
Even though my feet were killing me, I was able to go to the symphony. I felt foolish because I was wearing flip flops, but at that point my feet hurt more than my pride did. I couldn’t put on a shoe. Two more of my blisters had gotten infected, so my feet were just killing me.
I’m so glad I was able to go to the concert. It was perfect. I took a notebook with me, and took every note I could. I feel like my hyper-awareness actually made the experience better for me. In fact, I think that I’m going to choose to take fewer pictures of my experiences. The idea of taking a picture seems like a nice way to honor/remember the experience. However, we remember less of it when we are busy snapping pictures. It is my feeling that taking pictures of a sunset turns us into a “consumer” of the experience rather than a first hand “experiencer.”
Not sure if that makes sense to you, but it does to me.
All in all, the experience was great. Watching these artists was inspiring. I will never be a regular/obsessed concert goer, ironically enough. I mean, I play the piano – a lot and rather well. But, I’ve realized that regular classical concerts might not be my thing. Occasional ones, yes. But I doubt I’ll ever be a season ticket holder. (Again it has to do with the consumption/production thing. This is major for me.)
Anyway – go do your research. It can be fun. You might learn something. And don’t be dumb. Wear socks. Sterilize your instruments. Don’t get infected blisters. 🙂
Before I go on, I have to be perfectly clear: I have no idea what I’m doing.
Anyway – I’ve spent some time organizing my novel today. I need to get my ducks in a row. I have figured out some questions and themes that will be addressed and solved in the book. I’m super excited about them. I have also done a pretty exhaustive explanation of what the book is about.
While writing the explanation of this book, I jotted down a “research to-do list.”
The thing is, I really want this to be good. I feel like my idea is good. I’m writing a book to a youngish audience (13-14 years old or so), but that doesn’t mean I want to write something crappy. I want it to be honest and good. So, I’ve got a lot of work to do.
ANYWAY!!! The exciting part of this is that I just purchased some tickets to the symphony – all in the name of research. I’ll be seeing a performance of Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto.
I’m looking forward to an entertaining evening where I will try to absorb every single detail of the event!
What fun research adventures/experiences have you had?
John Steinbeck is, hands down, one of my favorite authors. Is that cliche? Does everyone say that? Do they say it without meaning it? I don’t really know nor do I care. I really love everything that I’ve read by Steinbeck.
Naturally, his process intrigues me.
I know that Writer’s Conferences and other workshops are really popular right now. I am not sure what I really think about them. Of course I want to learn more about the craft of writing. However, I think that more is available to me than I realize, I’m not convinced I should go to a conference. So, for now I’m finding interviews. The Paris Review has dozens of interviews with amazing, legit authors.
I read the John Steinbeck interview today. (Honestly, it isn’t a traditional interview…you can find out more about it on the website).
I will post a list of the ideas that strike me the most.
On Getting Started
Abandon the idea that you will ever finish. Instead of seeing 400 pages, just focus on one page at a time.
Don’t correct or rewrite until it is all down.
Read dialogue out loud to see if it sounds real.
On Work Habits
Keep my mouth shut about what I’m writing. Instead of talking about it, simply write it!
“Today is a dawdly day. They seem to alternate. I do a whole of a day’s work and then the next day, flushed with triumph, I dawdle. That’s today. The crazy thing is that I get about the same number of words down either way. This morning I am clutching the pencil very tight and this is not a good thing. It means I am not relaxed. And in this book I want to just be as relaxed as possible. Maybe that is another reason I am dawdling. I want that calmness to settle on me that feels so good–almost like a robe of cashmere feels.” – I include this because it is hard to be productive so much!
I think that I, like Steinbeck, might be too lazy to be anything other than a writer.
Write poetry when feeling “writer’s block.”
“Poetry is the mathematics of writing and closely kin to music.”
“The words are fighting each other to get out.”
The Short Story
The only way to write a good short story is to write a good short story.
Reduce the meat of a story to one sentence, then you’ll be able to enlarge it to 3-6,000 words.
There was a lot more to this, and, honestly, I was sick of going through it. I’m totally intrigued by the process of writing – not only because I want to crack it, but I think that I’m becoming addicted to it.
Yesterday, I looked over a list of themes that I created for myself. I know that I want to write a novel, and I know that somewhere there are ideas, but it needs shape and form. Everything is a possibility, so I need a place to start.
I wrote down themes, and with those themes, I wondered, “What is the question that the characters will answer?” This question will propel the plot, the characters, and everything about this book.
I didn’t have a question yet. So I wrote and wrote, and then discovered that I actually had a lot of questions. These questions don’t have answers yet, but I’ll find them out, and then we’ll have a book.
The process is exhilarating. It’s all I can think about these days.
I admit that I have no idea what I’m talking about. These aren’t really my steps in writing. Instead, I’m gleaning what I can from Barbara Kingsolver’s website. I want to write these down in one handy place…so here we go!
Read the kinds of books you wish you’d written.
Sit still and write.
Take any assignment and apply fervent devotion to it.
Take an uninspiring subject and make it “sing” on the page.
A career is built one paragraph at a time.
Dump it out.
*Not much information in this section other than Kingsolver’s own routine. What I take from it: figure out my routine. And when I do, stick to it.
Beginning a Novel
Begin with a question. One that doesn’t have a clear answer, yet the answer is vital.
Plot out a story in which the characters will face these questions through some kind of conflict/crisis.
Write what the novel will be about. This might take pages and pages. Get to know the story before writing the story.
Write about themes, plot, characters. Create life histories, etc.
Write a list of what will need to be researched.
As scenes occur, jot them down without worrying about chronology.
The novel is often on the back burner for a long time before it moves up front. “I spend months or years thinking about the shape of a novel and earning the authority to write it.” (Barbara Kingsolver).
When the novel is started – in earnest – find the voice and tone.
In this quest to be a real, published author, I’ve been creeping on some of my favorite authors’ websites. Barbara Kingsolver has an entire FAQ section. One of the tips she gives to writers is about research.
Reading her advice resonated with me. One of the reasons I didn’t go to graduate school was because I was convinced that life could teach me more of what I needed to know than school could. Don’t get me wrong. I know that school is great. But I knew that I wanted to be an author when I was in college. I had so many college instructors who took the same path: high school, college, grad school, teaching. BLAH!
I wanted some experience. I want to know what it is, not just how it is described in a textbook.
So, I didn’t go to grad school. There were times that I questioned this choice and myself, did I give up my only chance? Reading Kingsolver’s advice made me feel better about my choices. There are some things I know because I’ve chosen to take risks and have experiences.
Of course, as I was reading through this, one project I’ve been concentrating on came to mind. I’m writing a story that takes place in Dingle, Ireland. My father’s grandparents are from Dingle. I’ve never been there.
Hooray for you, for knowing the difference between primary and secondary sources, in a world where many seem to think watching a nature show is the same thing as being in nature. It isn’t. The nature show leaves out the smells, for one thing, and the seventeen hundred hours the camera crew sat waiting for the rhinos to mate. Another person’s account of a place – whether it’s Henry Thoreau or Youtube – is only part of the story.
I almost never set a fictional scene in a place unless I’ve been there. Fiction is an accumulation of details, and if they’re wrong, it’s an accumulation of lies. Readers are not fooled. Fiction is invention but it’s ultimately about truth. If I want to remove you from your life and whisk you into a picnic on the banks of a river in Teotihuacán, here are some things I need to know: what grows there, what trees, what flowers, in that month of the year? What does it smell like, are there bees? Birds? Is it dry or humid, how does the dust feel between your teeth? What’s in the picnic basket? What does candied prickly pear fruit actually taste like? Passing on someone else’s account of these things, from reading about them, would likely render a flat, one-dimensional scene, no matter how I injected my own additions of plot and character. The sensory palette would be limited. I can only paint with all the colors if I’ve seen them for myself.
The difference between amateur and professional research is a willingness to back away from other people’s accounts of what is, and find your own. There is no “googlesmell.” – Barbara Kingsolver
I’m writing a story that takes place in Dingle, Ireland during October, and I’ve never been there.
I need to go to Ireland.
I’m so tempted to fake it. I’ve come a long way in this story, but I know that it is “a collection of lies” (in some ways) because I’ve never been. I don’t know what Ireland smells like, tastes like, feels like, sounds like. I can only guess at what it looks like, but even then, I don’t have the right picture. I don’t understand it’s light. I don’t know how vibrant the green is or how grey the skies are.
I need to go to Ireland.
So, I’ve decided to shelf a big portion of this book. I’ll keep writing certain aspects of it, but I’m determined to get to Ireland. And, thankfully, I have some other projects to work on: projects I know; projects I won’t have to fake.
What is the most interesting research you have done when working on a project?
I’ve wanted to be a writer/author/whatever for quite some time. I’m not going to lie and say that it has always been my life-long dream. I wanted to be an astronaut until I was in 10th grade.
After failing chem in the 10th grade, I decided that I was kind of stupid. Well, no, not exactly. But my dreams for being an astronaut were dashed into pieces and I just figured that I’d be an artist. I also liked writing, but I never took it very seriously because I didn’t take any class in school seriously. I didn’t take English seriously at all. I loved reading, but I hated doing the busy-work that my teachers assigned to me. I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder.
Instead of schoolwork, I concentrated on art and music in high school. All of my friends were artists of some kind. I was happy hanging out with kids and building lego structures or sitting at a coffee shop and sketching rather than going to a football game. A few of my artists were very talented. While I wasn’t as talented as they were at visual art, I had my own creative endeavors. I’d always say, “One day, when I write a book…” and finish it with some kind of observation.
When it was time to start looking at colleges, at first I figured I’d go to an art school. I think that it was assumed. All of my friends were going to art school. Not to sound really arrogant, but I was better than several of them. There were a few that were way better artists than I was, but I still knew a lot of kids who were only okay that were going to art school. Everyone figured I’d do the same.
I felt like I shouldn’t. Instead, I moved from PA to UT and went to a typical, normal state school. Nothing special. Most of the kids who went to my college were becoming nurses or teachers. I had no idea what I was doing there.
Eventually, I decided to major in English. Writing came naturally to me. I had been keeping a journal for several years. However, most of the writing I was doing was academic. Towards the end of the my experience in college, I took a few creative writing classes. One of my teachers asked, “Where’s your voice?” I cried, and I’ve been searching ever since. That was the point when I timidly told myself, “Maybe I’d like to be a writer.”
So, it’s been this thought, this little idea for years.
Fast forward 14 years, and I’ve been raising a family, I’ve worked, I’ve moved, I’ve been married, I’ve been divorced, and I’ve been remarried. I’ve lived life. But the little bug to write has never left.
This post is already too long. I’m not a published author. I want to be one. I’m already a writer. It’s onto the next challenge. I feel like what I have to say is something that people might like to read, too. This blog will document my experience with writing, publishing, and whatever follows as I start to chase this silly dream.