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Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

Writing Intimidation/3/31/14

In Writing on March 19, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Today I bring up a subject that has only recently begun affecting me- what I call ‘writing intimidation’. I’ve been working furiously as of late  on what I call my ‘real’ writing (as opposed to my blog posts – which I enjoy writing immensely, but which seem less ‘real’- as in ‘marketable’ because they have already been released into the wild, so to speak).

I find that my attention is being drawn almost exclusively, to other writer’s credentials. The kind of credentials I simply don’t have. Should I be worried? Or should I just plod along with blinders on- the kind that blocks me from noticing that many writers have gone to expensive and exclusive schools, worked under the tutelage of famous authors, have MFA’s and teaching gigs at the Iowa Writers Program (teaching! I can’t even explain what I’m doing, let alone teach it! And isn’t teaching a whole separate degree?)

Pulling random books from my overflowing bookshelves (and book piles) I open to the writer credits,usually on the back cover, and inevitably it’s a ‘who’s who’ and ‘what’s what’ of accomplishment. Most of it is scholarly and/or massive sales-worthy. Here are some  examples: Augusten Burroughs is the New York Times Bestselling author…..David Sedaris’ half dozen books have been translated into twenty-five languages and his essays appear in the New Yorker and he can be heard on NPR’s ‘This American Life’…Barbara Kingsolver earned a graduate degree in biology before becoming a full-time writer…H.G. Bissinger  received the Pulitzer Prize and went to Harvard University….Wendy Lesser is the founder and editor of The Threepenny Review, which has been called “one of the most original literary magazines not only in the U.S. but also on the entire planet.”  These are a mere smattering of the applause from the books on my shelves.

I recently bought Ann Patchett’s long read on the craft of writing, (‘The Getaway Car’) and was somewhat alarmed that much of her journey centered on writing programs, scholarships and chance meetings and classes with certain teachers (often famous writers) without which she says she surely would never have become a ‘good’ writer. Not exactly inspiring.

It leaves me wondering: Is being a writer without an expensive Ivy League degree similar to teaching yourself to be a doctor over the internet? Is it that far fetched?

Reading interviews with authors is even more intimidating. Take the one I read this morning, a discussion with Gina Frangello, author of the book ‘A Life In Men’ where she speaks of her path to being a writer -(please allow me to paraphrase.)

“My husband had his first real job post-doc at the University of Chicago. He suggested I go back to school (note: she was already a licensed therapist) and get a Master’s in Creative Writing. I was in The Program For Writers to get my MFA and started working at a literary magazine and got a TA-ship. I ended up in the Ph.D program. I started teaching. I wrote a novel”

Two questions: What does that even mean and what chance in the world is there for an uneducated writer? My degree consists of 30 credits towards an Associates in Mass Communications at a community college, years ago. Nothing concrete, and absolutely nothing impressive. Since then I’ve been writing in private, and taken  Creative Writing courses here and there (mostly to check and see if there were other ‘crazies’ out there, writing away- and I’m happy to report: yes, there are!)

So,  how do writers such as myself exude confidence in the eye of such stellar competition?

Perhaps the light at the end of the tunnel is that as writers- true writers who feel compelled to write- there will be no such thing as giving up. Because to not write would be to not breathe, and in turn we would die. Write or Die, my friends…..Write or Die. Because even if we never ‘make it’ as writers, many of us will die trying.

I can’t speak for you, but I know that I have never regretted the trying, though there are times when it seems like such a ridiculous leap of faith, like something only a naive child would ever take seriously-especially if she is a non-graduate of Flaunty Von-Snootyville (jealous, much?), where scholars go to learn and ivy covers the walls. And one can find solace in the fact that there’s a huge difference between being intimidated and being defeated.

Where We Write What We Write

In Writing on January 8, 2014 at 12:19 pm

WritenowzWhere do you write? I have a room with bookshelves and memorabilia on the walls- it’s always cluttery, with papers here and there, and I’m always promising myself to straighten it out until I sit down at the desk and begin writing. Four hours later, I’m so mentally spent from writing, I just close the door on the mess and forget about it until the next day. Once every two weeks or so, I clean it to within an inch of it’s life, but next thing you know, I’m pulling the thesaurus off the shelf, clipping an article out of a magazine for reference, sharpening pencils and placing coffee cups on the coasters-that is, until a couple of days later, when the coasters are hidden under an avalanche of papers, at which point I just give up and put the cup anywhere on the damn desk.

Exactly.

Exactly.

I have bookshelves bursting with books in my writing room. Many are quirky thrift store finds from the 60’s and 70’s. Books like “A Paycheck Of Your Own'(1974) which instructs women on how to have a job and keep their marriages alive (this involves foot massages for your husband when you get home from your full day at work) and suggests “Make it perfectly clear [to the children] who’s the chief provider. “Even though we actually pool our two salaries and pay for everything out of our joint bank account.” says one woman, “we tell the kids that we use Daddy’s money for basics like the house and the food, and my money for extras like the new stereo.” Nifty!

Another ‘Is There A Teenage Driver In Your House?'(1967) talks about ‘night cruising’ and the bad kids the author calls ‘Highway Junkies'(for which he formed a self help group: ‘Motorists Anonymous’) Evidently, these kids have ‘Road Disease’ which can be recognized through these symptoms:”A sexual excitement as speed increases, a tense burning of the throat, a heavy stifling sensation in the chest, and a blinding determination ‘they shall not pass’ There are ‘hooligans’ who try to set records on who can drive the farthest without their headlights on at night, and others who take BB guns along with them to shoot up the town from car windows!”

And you wonder why I thrift!

These books are a godsend when I have writer’s block, or if I’m writing about a decade long past, for which I need to immerse myself in a ‘feel’ for the social climate, including the fringes.

Thrift Stores are a treasure trove of 'what the what?'

Thrift Stores are a treasure trove of ‘what the what?’

Back to the writing space: There’s an old metal filing cabinet for papers, a few black crows perched about (decorative, of course though real would be cooler!) personal pics, a clock, some paper cranes (given to me by a dear friend) and small cut outs of Joe Perry in the 70’s, Jon Bon Jovi in the 80s and Jay Z in the now. Oh- and Tom Brady with long hair. (Don’t judge me)

There are magnets on the file cabinet- Sons of Anarchy, my cats (not surprised, are you?) and a postcard from Salem. Mass (my spiritual hometown) There’s a statue of the Virgin Mary (wearing Mardi Gras beads) and a few ceramic owls. A black lamp with a leopard-print shade.

 

In the middle of all of this chaos is a two year old Dell computer with a flat screen, a basic keyboard, a scanner, a printer and an external hard-drive for back-up. It is here where I write, and here alone. I have a tablet, but I find writing on it cumbersome. I’ve never had a laptop, though the rest of my household prefers them. I have a million journals (there can never be too many) and I carry one with me at all times in case an idea hits me while I’m out (yesterday, while shopping- and because I was driving and couldn’t reach my purse in the backseat, I wrote an idea on a carton of eggs with a pen from my glove compartment at a red light) My journals are filled with ideas that only I can understand-but I’m so glad I keep them. Again- these are great for writer’s block.

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I admire people who can write at say- Starbucks, or some other public place. I could never concentrate deeply enough to write in public, though I’ve burned quite a few hours  talking about writing in these type settings. The bottom line is that we are all different- and the answer to the best places to write would have to be wherever works! As long as you are actually writing- it’s all good. Am I write?

J.K Rowling wrote Harry Potter in cafes!...if it works, go for it!

J.K Rowling wrote Harry Potter in cafes!…if it works, go for it!

Reading: Literature vs. Pedigree-Free Books

In Books, Writing on December 20, 2013 at 1:33 pm
Magical Children's Books...

Magical Children’s Books…

I firmly believe that readers are born the minute they are gifted with a book that speaks to them. As a child, I remember being captivated by books about mermaids, kids who lived ‘alone’ (Pippi Longstocking), heartbreaking Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales (The Little Match Girl) and anything with animals who wore clothes, furnished the hollow insides of trees and spoke.

Once I escaped  into a good book, and deduced there were thousands more out there- as yet unread- I knew I’d found the key that would unlock doors to worlds I would otherwise never experience. As I grew older, I remained a voracious reader, and am, to this day, rarely without a book (or ten!) Truth be told, I don’t know how people who don’t read even get through life!

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I’ve always had what I call a ‘book sense’- I can sniff out a book I’d like from a mile away. The cover art, the blurbs, the whole ‘feel’ of a book, all add up to an inkling that is usually on target. This isn’t to say that I stay within my comfort zone all of the time. As David Foster Wallace was so fond of saying ‘good reading is sometimes hard reading’ and I do flex my reading and vocabulary skills to keep them sharp. Sometimes I read four or five pages of my thesaurus, which is helpful for both reading and writing. I sometimes read to learn about a particular subject. The thought of a reading list is ludicrous to me- who could ever run out of books to read, and who (good lord!) needs Oprah to tell them what to read? I can steer my own ship, thankyouverymuch! (And Oprah, just because you stand next to a book, or read it, you shouldn’t get credit for the author’s precious ideas!)

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I often wonder how many potential readers were turned off to reading by the books they were assigned in school. I loved a lot of the  reading we did- ‘The Cricket In Times Square’, ‘Charlottes Web’,”Black Beauty’, ‘Aesop’s Fables’ in elementary school, ‘Go Ask Alice’,  ‘The Outsiders’,’Watership Down’ and ‘Catcher In The Rye’ in middle school.  But there were others- the so-called ‘literature’ that turned me off- that somehow turned reading into a chore, especially in high school.  The Greek tragedies, the Romans.. Chaucer, Moby Dick…Don’t get me wrong. I get it (good reading isn’t always easy) but to me- if I wasn’t engaged, what was the point?

I just didn’t feel anything for these people and their (often) privileged angst and formal manner. The assignments that went along with these books were a constant interrogation- endless discussions and tests which graded my interpretation (there was always a ‘right’ answer for how I should have  ‘thought’ about these stories and writers. My thoughts and takeaways aren’t governed by mimeographed test sheets) If I could be turned off to reading (my favorite ‘sport’) by these books, god help the kids that didn’t like to read in the first place.

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Who decides what worthy reading is? Who were the reading connoisseurs who decided what is good for us all? Schools believe we have to ‘prove’ we can ingest these works, but what makes them superior to other (more relevant) writing? It seems if writing is complicated and difficult, and reading a particular book is a chore, then one is rewarded with the gold star of having gotten through it. As though they survived a battle. Which they did, in my humble opinion. Why would it be such a crime to tailor reading to what someone might actually enjoy, a book that would set them on a reading path that may eventually lead them to the classics willingly, up for the challenge?

So much ‘snooty’ literature- that which are discussed over the finest of wines and moldiest of cheese, are tales of morality and woe -are lessons, if you will. Tales of those who had it ‘all’ (superficially) and one day gave into their human desires- be it lust, greed, cruelty, gluttony….People who wear masks for so long, the sweat drips down their faces, the elastic binds their skulls until -whoosh!-they snap! And (usually) reveal their ‘human-ness after all! (shocker!) -as if anyone believed for a second that they were anything but.

These books are being read at all of the ‘good schools’, by the children of inherited wealth, as they were read by their parents, and their parents before them. Books, filled with warnings and red flags, leather-bound books that line their private libraries (first editions!) Yet-somehow- no one sees themselves on the page. For people who consider themselves to be educated (though one must point out: never confuse education with intelligence) it is an amazing oversight. These stories present the foibles of man, but seem to speak to no one man in particular in these dens of the upper class.

The very people who brag about ‘literature’ they’ve read, are often committing the very same morality crimes themselves- for money or pleasure. They still fall on the same swords themselves, ne’er the wiser! Obviously, there is a disconnect between the reader and what they read! I want to scream: these are not instruction manuals! If they speak so deeply, why does no one seem to listen? Or better yet: did they really read them?

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I like to think of the books that I have read and enjoyed, and the things I’ve (happily) learned from them. To look below the surface of a person, that our experiences are often universal, that humor is gold, that you should treat others as you want to be treated, that war is a horrible tragedy and never works, that animals and nature are fascinating, that introverts often have the loudest minds, that love is the only thing of real value, and that to be happy is the real lottery win. And the truth is-  I’d put an understated Anne Tyler novel up against a Greek tragedy any day of the week.

Things I’ve Learned- And Want To Learn- About Blogging!

In Should I Even Be Talking About This?, Writing on September 16, 2013 at 4:01 pm

September 22, 2013 marks my two year anniversary on ‘Kick In The Cornflakes’ at WordPress. I decided to make a list of what I’ve learned since being here, because I appreciate reading this kind of thing from  blog veterans (that translates into anyone who has been here longer than me) Some of these things may seem at odds with each other, but from where I sit, this is how I see it.

Always. Always.

Always. Always.

THE MISTAKES!

I refer to editing, and I will be the first to admit that self-editing is almost as bad as no editing- but what choice do you have? I cannot think of a single blog post that wasn’t filled with errors when I published it. (This, after checking it over and over!) When I first started, I would be mortified….I’d get up in the middle of the night if I realized I spelled a word wrong (I use spell-check, but there can  be mistakes regardless) I still get embarrassed about it, but now I know that I only have two choices: blog and make mistakes- or don’t blog at all. Some of my posts have been edited so thoroughly they are now completely different animals! (hopefully in a good way) On more than one occasion, I’ve edited an opinion post so much the opinion changed! 🙂  So I try to think of my stories and posts as works in progress.  I  also try to make a habit of going into my archives and fixing stuff, but without a professional editor, trying to stay ahead of the mistakes is like trying to hold the the tide back with a sandcastle.  To make matters worse, when I read other bLogs they seem free of mistakes! 

A Master

A Master

THE HARD WORK

I defy anyone out there to keep a blog going without spending at least two hours a day on it (if not way more!) It is like an endless conversation, and oftentimes it is only with yourself. But if you want to have any reader interest at all, you have to ‘keep it coming’. Just like ACTUAL WRITING (as in ‘I’d like to be a writer’ and thinking it’s just a matter of setting aside some time) everyone thinks they can do it until they actually try. There are still days when I want to delete the whole thing, but I know I would write anyway, so I might as well do it at my spot. (I also have a private ‘spot’ where I can write about more difficult things without fear of hurting any feelings – I think it’s important to go deeper if you can)

THE LACK OF ENCOURAGEMENT

Unless you blog within a network of friends, you probably won’t make many by blogging. This is because most bloggers are busy doing the ‘hard work’ of writing, and when they are not, they are living their ‘real’ lives. Also, lots of blog-writers (or maybe I should say writers in general!) are shy, or introverts, and wouldn’t know how to ‘put themselves out there’ (Where is ‘out there’ anyhow?) The guts to write and maintain a blog is pretty awesome. Most people can start one, but can’t keep it going (turns out that it takes work) But keep going! There seem to be a lot of ‘blogger conventions’ out there, but if you (like me) are an introvert, the thought of going to one can be intimidating.

Said no one ever

Said no one ever

A Very Important thing to remember is that nobody is required to ‘care’ about your blog- it’s not the center of their lives or thoughts. I used to get so (secretly) mad at good friends who had every excuse in the book about why they couldn’t read my latest post- or why they couldn’t push the like button (though I will say: try not say that to a blogger. If you read and like a post, but don’t push the like button, you’re literally saying: ‘You won’t lift a finger’)  People have all kinds of reasons- it might be passive aggressive for reasons too deep to worry about. Or they might not like your writing or subject matter and don’t know how to tell you. Or they have better things to do. The important thing is this: DO NOT LET THAT STOP YOU! KEEP GOING. HOPE THAT ‘CREAM RISES’ and have faith that your blog is CREAMY! 

stories can come from anywhere

stories can come from anywhere

There ARE some really nice bloggers out there, and every bit of help should be appreciated- they don’t have to help you. Thank them with all you’ve got!  Finding real-life writers or bloggers on a common wavelength seems really hard, but don’t stop trying. Take a writing class if you can. (Though the merits of these classes can be debated. My feeling is that it’s nice to meet other people who are also writing- just to know you’re not alone. The technical side-whether or not it improves your writing-eh, not really) The encouragement has to come from within, but that is easier said than done. Sometimes a single ‘like’ can make your day. Again -Just keep going….

THE DASHBOARD BLUES

The WordPress Dashboard confuses me. For instance, sometimes when I publish a post, it gets an immediate ‘like’ or two in less  than a  second! A person could not possibly have read what you’ve written. I also get followed by questionable blogs- maybe they are promoting or selling something- it’s often hard to tell. What is a Ping-back? (Yes-I’ve read the description, and no-still don’t ‘get-it’) Maybe the question is: What do I DO with a ping-back? And sometimes I’ll have a gigantic (to me) surge in visitors to my blog. The numbers  triple,  even quadruple on random days! I’m not doing anything different, so it’s puzzling. There isn’t any feedback either-( I assume that’s not good)  Admitting I’m not sure how the dashboard works might make other people who are as confused as I am feel less alone.

WRITE WHAT FEELS RIGHT TO YOU

I have lots of ‘stage-fright’ before I publish something. Mostly due to #1 (Mistakes and Editing) but also because I write about subjects some or most people aren’t interested in: Teenage angst, Disliking something the majority of the public likes and ranting about it, NFL Football and The 60’s, 70s and 80s. These subjects flows from my heart to the tips of my fingers and onto the page. If I changed my ‘style’ then I wouldn’t be me. And in order to maintain a labor of love- you have to be real. Or what’s the point?

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I’M NOT COMPUTER SAVVY

There are so many things I still don’t know how to do. I have trouble with links and pictures and the etiquette of blogging itself. For instance, I once re-blogged someone’s terrific post and then riffed on it. I added my own opinion to the piece. Luckily- the person liked it, but I thought ‘what if I am stepping on toes here?’ You have to trust that if you are doing something that is inherently wrong in the blogging world, that someone will tell you. You also have to do things you may not like to in order to promote yourself. I recently left Facebook and would love to keep it that way, but according to the WordPress bloggers I have contact with, it is necessary to connect to not just Facebook, but Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest- as many as you can. And for some reason (?) not having a Facebook (especially) is seen as suspect. (I would love for someone to tell me this is false, by the way!) But adding my Tumblr followers, for example, exposes me to lots more people. And maybe a few more likes or comments.

So?!

So?!

THERE IS NO ENDGAME

If you truly love to write- and think that posting some of your stories online, rather than keeping all of it stashed away somewhere- then a blog can be a way of slowly getting your writing feet wet. Maybe getting used to putting your writing in public- even if it’s not exactly catching the world on fire- is just the thing a shy person needs to build up some confidence. Maybe it helps you to find others who do the same thing or to submit your work somewhere. Maybe it gets you used to criticism.This may not sound like much, but I know I’m  more confident about writing in general than I was before my blog. Nothing is going to stop me from writing, so why not throw a hat into the ring?! Even if you throw it really, really quietly!

just keep going!

just keep going!

And that’s about it for my Two Year Evaluation. I expect to be much further along by the Third!

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