On Distraction

Sometimes, I find that distraction can be a good thing. At this moment in my life, I am slogging through the last semester of my undergraduate degree and impatiently waiting to hear back about whether or not I have gotten into graduate school. Right about now I can use all the distraction I can get.

Distraction is, more often than not, considered the bane of the writer’s existence. There are all too many things that beckon each and every writer when the only thing they should be focusing on is their writing. Writing at least 500 words a day is how to finish that novel, you say? Well, that can end up slipping to the bottom of the list when there’s website updates, blog posts, and (at least in my case) 15 chapters of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall to finish up by tomorrow. In this case, I would undoubtedly agree that distraction is not to my benefit. Sometimes, though, when staring at my e-mail waiting to hear back about a submission or rereading a sentence over for the fiftieth time to decide whether or not it’s working, something to distract me would be beneficial. 

Today, instead of re-checking my submittable page, my grad school application portals, and the MFA Draft page on Facebook, I purchased my own domain name (oh, hey, addeyvaters.com, welcome to the party), watched an episode of Criminal Minds, found a new jewelry box and some 1940s prints at Goodwill (my second time to the thrift store in two days, it has become a worthy distraction), and did actually get around to some of that Tenant of Wildfell Hall reading (a little later than I should have, though, I must admit). Distraction sometimes can be a good thing. It can get us out of our heads and/or out into the real world. It can force me to have a pleasant conversation with the cashier at the thrift store or to clean out my jewelry stash now that I have somewhere new and pretty to put everything.  

With my life teetering on the edge of so much uncertainty lately, distraction has become my saving grace. If you’re a worrier like me struggling with finding ways to keep your mind off of this, that, and the other thing, go thrifting, take a walk, or create yourself a brand spankin’ new website. It will at least temporarily cease the worrier within and might just get some creative juices flowing in that writerly brain of yours. 

On Vulnerability and Armor and Words

It takes a lot to be vulnerable. To lay your thoughts and feelings out in the open and truly let others see your inner workings is momentous. Sometimes vulnerability is seen as something negative and something to hide. We are often taught to wear armor – to cover up our weak spots with something not so weak. We are often taught that to be strong, we must not let anyone see the spots underneath that armor – the spots that, if exposed, could be used against us. Spots that are soft and able to give in, whereas our armor is tough and able to deflect. Spots that are human.

I have learned this semester that vulnerability takes a lot. Sometimes parts of your own personal history that you thought were finished and dealt with can bring a lot of heartache and emotion bubbling to the surface. Sometimes you’ve actually gotten over parts of that same history you thought you never could.

I am taking a creative nonfiction course this semester. A course where there’s no escaping your history. A course where vulnerability might as well be listed as the prerequisite. Writing about yourself is hard, just like talking about yourself can sometimes be. That complex interview question of “tell us about yourself” is complex and dreaded for a reason. I have been very inspired by my sister and fellow students and their willingness to be vulnerable. I have in turn been vulnerable in my own writings. Sometimes I don’t always understand the writing of others and sometimes I’m sure they don’t understand my own work, but we all seem to have come to the conclusion that vulnerability is a must – and that vulnerability is unbelievably and excruciatingly difficult. Baring your heart on the page can leave you shaking with trepidation or fighting back tears in the middle of class, but it’s beautiful. Having the strength to bring up things that were heart-stopping and terrible, or downright wonderful, in your past is brave. Being willing to share any part of yourself that is not always visible under that armor is astounding.

On Applying to MFA Programs

Something I discovered junior year was that graduate programs in creative writing exist.  At my current university, there isn’t even a graduate program in English, and no undergraduate major in creative writing at all, only a minor.  This has never been particularly bothersome to me, but I think that because of this, the idea of studying creative writing at the graduate level never really crossed my mind.  I discovered, though, that there are MFA programs in creative writing all across the country, that my current creative writing professors have almost all graduated from one such program, and that a lot of these programs allow students to work with incredibly talented writers while fully funding their students.  I guess you could say that after a bit of looking into MFA programs my thoughts were something along the lines of: mind blown.

Now that I am in my senior year and set to graduate in May, I have been deciding where I want to apply, what my personal statement should say, what pieces of writing I should use as my samples, who to ask for letters of recommendation, where I would actually want to live for the next two or three years, how hard (or easy) it will be to get into different programs, which faculty I would like to work with, and so many other things.  In addition to how time consuming it is to apply to different MFA programs, it is also expensive given the application fees that are required.  It also costs money to send transcripts to each school, and requires me to ask an incredibly big favor of three or four of my instructors so that I have great recommendations.  It’s all a bit overwhelming, to say the least.

While it is a bit much to handle at times, it is also incredibly exciting.  The prospect of going to school for the next several years studying just creative writing and potentially teaching it, or some other sort of English course, while doing so and being surrounded by a community of other writers – some, I’m sure, very well known and some who have never published before, is such an amazing prospect.  I have come to really love and appreciate the academic world of literature and creative writing during my undergraduate years, and I absolutely adore the idea of staying immersed in this world a bit longer – and potentially for a long time afterwards if I teach.

I spoke with one of my instructors yesterday about the prospect and she had a lot of advice for me.  Daunting advice, to be sure, but such useful advice coming from someone who has been where I am before and actually gotten in to one of these MFA programs.  I’m now going to apply to more programs than I was first considering applying to.  I am now going to try almost exclusively for MFA programs rather than MA programs, since she explained that to teach creative writing, an MFA is almost crucial.  She gave me a lot to thing about, but I am still so excited.  I am ready to really get underway with my applications and to start this journey of writing after graduation – whatever that entails.

On Dabbling

This semester, I have been dabbling in different forms of creative writing.  My usual focus is fiction, and I tend to drill my thoughts on creative writing so deeply into the framework of fiction that I often don’t consider the other writing forms of poetry and creative nonfiction.  This semester, though, initially by necessity (graduation, anyone?) and now by choice, I have been writing, and reading, lots of poetry and lots of creative nonfiction.

At first I was a bit skeptical.  I absolutely love reading poetry (I even wrote an article about why everyone should read poetry here), but I wasn’t too keen on writing it.  My thoughts on writing poetry have been altered, if only by a little, since then, though.  And as for creative nonfiction, I was, to be honest, completely and utterly new the form.  I thought it would be a bit boring or simply informative, and not much else, as I had come to expect nonfiction to be.  I can say now, though, that creative nonfiction is absolutely magnificent and that I may just be a fiction and nonfiction writer from now on!

Although my mindset has changed when it comes to approaching poetry and creative nonfiction, I’m finding that I am gaining more than just an appreciation for different creative writing forms.  I am learning that do be a great writer – yes, even of purely fiction – I need poetry and creative nonfiction.  I need to not only try my hand at writing it (and fail at writing it in the case of poetry) but I need to appreciate the thoughtfulness that goes into different disciplines within the field of creative writing and use what I learn in the process.

Writing, reading, and learning about creative nonfiction has helped me develop a better sense of how to describe.  I’m at least hoping that after this semester, I will be able to distill images and scenes into beautiful masterpieces – something that I can certainly take with me into my fiction writing, and that nonfiction experts seem to do so effortlessly.  Writing, reading, and learning about poetry has made me realize how important words are.  In creative pieces, each word holds weight – and I need to weigh my word choices thoughtfully before placing them in a piece.  Poetry has also taught me the intense and real work that goes into creating something so small but so very, very powerful.  Poets are incredibly gifted, and I have come to admire them as artists even more!

I guess I have been surprised at how beneficial to me as a writer it has been to dabble.  Dabbling in many different things is often seen negatively – as something that only those who are flighty and indisicive do – but I am realizing that dabbling is what helps creative people of any kind grow, and I hope to continue dabbling and learning and writing some more.

On Workshopping

Hello blogosphere!  Sorry I have been MIA as of late – this semester has been kicking my but, for lack of a better phrase.  I have been writing and typing like mad lately, finishing stories for my classes and publishing articles for Odyssey, and have unfortunately neglected my own little corner of the Internet.  Never fear, though, I’m back – at least for now.

Given my aforementioned stories that have been written for my creative writing classes at school, I thought I would focus on something almost exclusively done in said classes: the creative writing workshop.  Workshopping is crucial to being a writer.  It’s a pretty widely accepted form of garnering critiques and is how most college level creative writing classes are taught but, as with almost anything, there are positives and negatives to this form.  Up until this semester, I would have to say that my workshopping experiences have been largely positive, aside from a few snafus where I put my foot in my mouth in front of the entire class, but I have had some interesting workshops this week in particular that have left me with a sense of fear at the mention of the word “workshop.”

I find that sometimes workshopping is a tedious balance between a love fest, or a bashing fest, on a writer’s work.  It can be hard to establish the sense of what is appropriate and useful and what is unhelpful and sometimes just rude.  Letting a large group, especially of college students, have almost free reign on a discussion of their peer’s work can be tricky.  Like I mentioned, I’ve never really had a negative connation with workshops, but this semester has gotten off to a rocky start in terms of my two creative writing classes.

After experiencing an extremely disorganized workshop in which some student’s work received less attention than others, a workshop consisting of – there’s really no better way to say it – a big mouth who thinks they are better than everyone else, and a pretty brutal workshop in which both my story a classmate’s got picked apart by our vulturous peers, you could say that I am over workshopping altogether.  At least for this week!

All of this has made me realize the importance of establishing boundaries when it comes to workshops and the importance of carefully thinking through what you are going to say.  Sometimes things come across harsher than intended, and sometimes people don’t actually know what they are talking about (the constant “in my experience, life doesn’t happen this way” thing).  I’m not saying that I’m a perfect workshopper myself – I’m sure sometimes I come across in ways I don’t want to – but I always attempt to ruminate on my comments before saying them (if I can get a word in edgewise, that is).

I’m not quite sure what the purpose of this post was.  Perhaps a rant.  Perhaps a way for me to get over the bashing I went through earlier this evening.  Whatever it was, I hope it might inform some mysterious reader of how important thoughtfulness and balance is to having a beneficial workshop.  Without workshopping, writers cannot grow, but there must be guidelines to go by that allow for a pleasant and useful experience for everyone involved.

On Pretending

When I was younger, my sister and our friends would constantly play in a world of make believe.  We always had a flare for the dramatic, and liked to pretend we were orphans in the twentieth-century on a ship sailing to the untouched country of promise that was America.  If not orphans, than we were princesses.  Then we were spies, stealthily hiding clues across our backyard and trying to trick the other rival spy-team.  We went through a videography phase after I got my ‘new’ digital camera and learned how to use Windows Movie Maker and even made our own terribly cheesy action flick about a clumsy spy who ended up saving the world.  Although I’m sure if I saw it now it would seem awful, we were very dedicated and ended up with a thirty minute long mockumentary (before it was even a thing, I might add) including bloopers.  After we tired of spying, we moved on to being mermaids in the pool during the still heat of summer.  We were pretty imaginative little girls, and these bouts of pretending, and dolling up in the crazy costumes we made out of contents of the dress up bin, are some of my fondest memories.

Sometimes I feel like the job of a writer is to pretend.  I constantly feel like I am pretending to be “a real writer.”  The world of the writer seems to be one of make believe – where stories are published and paid for, where success is easily at hand, and where imaginary worlds become reality with only a few words.  Really, though, writing is tedious work with little reward, and I’ve realized that someone really can’t plan to become a writer unless they genuinely love their craft.  Just like my friends and I used to pretend when we were little, I have come to pretend in a new way as a grown up (take not that I use that term extremely loosely when referring to myself).  As adults, I think we all put on a facade and act like people we are not.  For different people that means different things.  For me this often means putting on a brave face and sending out stories that I have combed through a million times in hopes of getting a yes, or publishing my words on the internet pretending like I am confident in what I have written.  Oftentimes I feel a little shaky.  It’s tough reading the words of incredibly intelligent and talented individuals and then trying to live up to them.

I think that’s where I go wrong, though.  When I was little, I didn’t care if I was living up the expectations of others.  It didn’t matter that my friends and I weren’t putting on an Oscar-worthy performance in our spy themed short film.  It didn’t matter that our clothing when pretending to be orphans in the 1800s wasn’t historically accurate or even very orphan-like (I’m pretty sure old wedding gowns from garage sales weren’t the typical attire of orphans).  We created our own world, though, and we lived in it wholeheartedly.  That’s the key.  Whether I am a “real writer” or I’m pretending to be one, I need to just embrace the fact that I write.  It doesn’t matter if it’s good or not (hopefully it is), but I love writing.  I genuinely love crafting something out of nothing – taking a stark white page and filling it with someone, some place, and something.  My sincerest hope is that this something is actually worthwhile, but ultimately I’m the judge of that.  If I put all of my effort and time into creating a work of writing, then it is worthwhile.  Even if only to me.

Just like that spy movie was great to all of us while we were making it.  We must have watched it fifty times, just between the five of us who were in it.  We loved making that movie.  I love writing.  There’s success in that, even if it’s not the typical type.  Success is ultimately in doing what you love, and I’m certainly doing that.

Via Quotegram

On a;lskdjfoepc,eyxz

How about this title?  This is how I feel right now.  I am slightly (okay, maybe very) overwhelmed with life at the moment.  I like writing.  I love writing, but with the start of the semester I have been falling of the writing train as of late.  I keep getting textbooks in the mail, keep having meeting to go to because I am a teaching assistant this fall, and have been completely slammed at work (the weeks leading up to the start of the fall term are always absolutely insane in the financial aid office).

I know I’ve written almost this same thing in the past, but it is something I struggle with.  Finding time to write is hard, and trying to not beat myself about it is harder.  I know that I am busy – I work, go to school, am a teaching assistant, and am the president of a club at my university – but I’m not the only busy person in the world.   In fact, busy people are able to churn out books at an alarming rate sometimes.  Heck, even published and successful authors are insanely busy and still manage to write.

I think, though, that I am starting to learn to not listen to and compare myself to others.  I know I’ve written about this before, too, but it’s important.  Right now, getting my degree and being a successful and involved student on campus is of the utmost importance to me.  I hate to say this, but I will have time to write my book later.  I will also have time to resume writing my book once the semester has started.  I can write for small little chunks of time whenever I can.  I will still write, it may not be as much as I would like but I will write.

I will get there.  It’s alright if it just takes me a bit longer than I anticipated.

On Point of View

I, you, he, she.  The dilemma of which pronouns to use when writing is much, much, more difficult than I anticipated.  When I first set out to write my book, I thought it would be in first person.  It’s based around one person – Cassie, the main character – and the very rough first several chapters I had written ages ago was in first person.  Then when I got around to actually writing the thing, I ended up deciding on third person.

Although I used to write solely in first person it seemed – I was a teenager and it seemed like all the Meg Cabot and Sara Dessen books were written in first person, and of course I basically wanted to be them –  I have gotten more comfortable with writing in third now that I’m in college.  Everyone in my creative writing classes seems to think that the difficulties with point of view arise when one writes in first person, and we were all challenged to challenge ourselves.  For my classmates, that meant first person.  For me, that meant third person.  I think that I am now comfortable with both.  Both serve different purposes and both can be successful.  Deciding which one to use, however (the debate is only between first and third in this case, no second person for me) has proven incredibly hard.

So far, I’ve been sitting comfortably in the third person department (as if the world of writing was a department store of some sort) and cleverly deleting every “I” in my first several chapters.  I’ve almost finished updating my first draft, though, and I still don’t know if that’s the best idea.  Why is this so difficult?

The book is, technically, a young adult novel.  Is first person a young adult thing?  When I was a young adult (who am I kidding, I still am) first person used to be the way all of the books I was reading were written.  But they weren’t historical fiction.  Now I read a lot of fiction that is primarily in third person.  Especially fiction of the historical variety.

And now I’ve come back to finish writing this post after just reverting the first chapter back to first person.  I haven’t gotten very far in the book, but I know that changing he point of view later on will be incredibly difficult.  I need to decide what to use now and stick with it.

I’m going to go with first person.

These are the things that I’m not sure anyone actually considers when setting out to write a book. Plot and characterization seems to come first.  Organization second. Perhaps some sort of outline comes third.  None of these take into account the point of view, though, which is incredibly important.  I definitely hadn’t put much thought into what point of view to use, and I’m just now realizing what a lapse in judgement that was.  Point of view almost needs to be considered first of all.  The person who’s telling the story is very important to the development of a story.

Oh well.  I’ll know better next time.

On Procrastination

This post might as well be called “The Story of My Life.”  As I type this (something that I have put off for several days now) I am putting off writing the book as well as writing an essay for my one summer class.  Isn’t that just great?  

For most of my life I have been a procrastinator.  It’s a tricky trap, the trap of procrastination, and once you fall in it’s virtually impossible to escape.  Procrastination has worked for me so far.  I have gotten through school with good grades.  I’m an English Major who writes her papers the day before they are due, and that has worked for me, but I don’t think that will work with the book I’m trying to write.

I’ve put off writing the book for a while.  It’s kind of strange, really, because I’m not sure why I keep putting it off.  It’s immensely exciting to think about the prospect of writing the book and actually having something so wonderful and complete.  It’s even more exciting to think about having something to send off to publishers and literary agents.  This is what I want to do with my life – to write.  So why do I keep putting it off?

I think that ultimately my procrastination stems from fear.  I’m afraid to put so much of myself into something and then have it be a flop.  Even if it’s somehow some huge success, that’s kind of terrifying.  I don’t know how to navigate the world I am trying to become a part of.  I really don’t know what I’m doing, and that’s kind of scary.

Procrastination is something that has never negatively effected me in the past, put I can’t put off writing this thing that I am so invested in any longer.  I’m excited.  Genuinely excited to write – but it’s hard to actually get to the writing at times.  I need to let go of my fear and let my old habits die hard (at least when it comes to the book) and actually do it.  I am writing, don’t get me wrong, but it is begrudgingly and at the last minute every evening.  I am going to (try) to forget the fear and just write.  I want this book to be magnificent – but the fear that it won’t be is not going to stop me any longer!

On Comparison

I feel like I’ve heard somewhere that comparison is the death of the artist.  If I haven’t heard it somewhere, then apparently I’m more creative than I thought.  Comparing oneself to others is detrimental to one’s wellbeing – whether that comparison stems from artistic ability or simply from physical appearance.  It’s never good to compare what you do what others do, just like it is never good to compare how many friends you have to how many others have.  Comparisons like these just make way for doubt and fear to creep in, and no one who hangs on to either of those emotions is successful in the grand scheme of things.

I’m sure we’ve all heard this before.  I may sound like a broken record right now (in fact, that simile may be just as annoying as a broken record at this point in history), but it’s true.  Nevertheless, it’s always much easier to say than to actually put into practice.  Even now, I know that the first paragraph of this post – that I wrote, nonetheless – is on the verge of being hypocritical.  I know all of these things.  I know that comparing myself to others in any way, shape, or form is a bad habit to have – but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy habit to break.  It seems like the tendency to compare is in our nature.  Take a look at comparisons related to other areas of life, for example.  At the grocery store, we compare prices.  In the car on the way to work, we compare the songs that come on over the radio, picking which one is our favorite.  We compare cars, we compare schools, we compare jobs, we compare books.  It’s part of living day to day life.  Some of these types of comparisons are not bad at all – far from it, really.  But sometimes comparison can take over and it becomes all to easy to live your life comparing it to the lives of others.

This is certainly true for me, and I have been feeling my habit to compare coming on strong the past couple of days.  I have been struggling with the future (what’s new?) and trying to talk myself out of applying to grad school.  I want to go to grad school.  I really want to go to grad school.  But then I look at the writers who actually get into MFA programs and compare my writing to theirs, and I have doubts.  Then I look at the caliber of the students who are awarded graduate teaching assistantships and I feel uncertain.  Then I look at how hard it is to get funding at my top choice schools compared to other schools and I’m scared.  It can be very hard at times trying to get into a creative field.  There’s really no way to compare writers to each other.  There’s no strict standard I can compare my writing to in order to tell if it’s great.  The world of writing is a varying one, and there’s often no way to tell what will be a huge success and what will flop.  Sometimes the exact opposite of what is expected happens, and there’s simply not a way to predict that.

While it’s definitely hard to stop comparing my writing to others, it’s not impossible.  Actually, it’s not altogether bad (though I would say it’s mostly bad).  In order to learn how to write well, I must emulate authors who I admire and who are considered great writers.  Is this a form of comparison? Yes.  Is it a bad form of comparison?  Not necessarily.  Ultimately, comparison is not beneficial when taken too far.  When comparison denotes value, then there’s something wrong.  I’m learning not to let comparison bar me from living life.  I’m not going to let my doubts and fears get in the way of applying to grad school.  There’s no harm in trying, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you, or me, when it comes to our creative endeavors.  We are all unique and have different talents, and that means that there is no comparison when it comes to any one of us.  We must reign in the habitual comparing in order to become successful.