On Not Writing

Something interesting that I have found about writing is how much I learn about it when I’m not writing.  It may sound counter-intuitive, but I almost always find this to be the case.

Over the summer I was writing nonstop.  I was coming up with poems left and right—I practically wrote what could constitute an entire chapbook in a matter of weeks.  Since then, though, I have been slacking off in the writing world.  Part of that is beyond my control—with an impending move and applying for a few side hustles to make some extra cash as the holiday season sneaks up on us—but some of it is all on me.  I’ve enjoyed laying on my bed and watching Youtube videos a little too much lately (Youtube really does function as a bit of a black hole—it sucks you in and before you know it an hour has passed.  Yikes)..

I’m working on getting back into writing, but I’m also taking a break.  There’s nothing wrong with that.

It’s funny, though, because even when I take a break, I’m still writing.  I’m writing this blog, for example.  I wrote another blog today over on borrowed solace.  Speaking of borrowed solace, we are putting together our fifth issue (I have no idea how we’ve lasted this long, but I’m so incredibly grateful) and each issue involves a lot of writing for all of us as we fine tune bios, introductions, dedications, and the like.

I’m also submitting my writing—I had a poem come out in the Best Emerging Poets of Colorado anthology and have some forthcoming poems in Scarlet Leaf Review—and while I’m getting some acceptances I’m still getting rejections (just got one yesterday, as a matter of fact).  All of this is happening—writing is happening, I guess you could say—while I’m not actually writing.  Well I am, but not really.

It’s a bit confusing. 

I’m coming to learn that this is the life of a writer.  It’s not all writing and editing and revising.  A lof of it is blogging, copywrighting, emailing, journaling, and reading.  It’s being the go to writer at a non-writing job—this week, for example, I wrote up a summary of a tax credit program in Illinois to give to my new boss—and it’s reworking your bio or writing the blurb that goes along with a podcast episode (and trying to come up with a creative episode name that comes out sounding a little cheesy despite multiple attempts to the contrary.)

I find that the type of writing I am doing varies so much that it means I am never not writing, though it does mean that sometimes I am not writing what I want to be writing.

But that’s life, really—you don’t always get to do what you want to do, unfortunately. 

As long as I am still occasionally writing poems or working on a story, I consider that a success.  All the writing in between is a success, too, though for different reasons.

I’m happy writing about not writing, or not actually writing what I want to write, because I know that this will change soon.  For now I am not writing.  At least not in the way I think I should be writing, but sometimes that’s where the best ideas, and the best writing experience, comes from.

On Finding Yourself

I am a firm believer in talking about what’s hard.  I think it is a disservice to everyone if we ignore what makes us uncomfortable or ashamed.  There are things I believe that are hard things to believe, and I think we should talk about that.  There are also things that I hesitate to share, and I think that means I should share them even more.  This is one of those things, but it is something that has deeply marked me, leaving beauty marks and scars, both equally important in the narrative of my life.

As someone who adores a good narrative, I know that the hard parts must be shared as well as the good parts.  My favorite stories don’t shy away from the dark, but ultimately focus on the light.  Because there is light that comes from any darkness we encounter.  If there is one thing I know for sure in this life, it is that the light is only dimmed when darkness seems to encompass us, but there is always something good that comes out of our time in the shadows of life.

I guess you could say that for the past two years, I have been living in the shadows, and for the last half of 2018 up until about a month ago, I was in one of the darkest places I have ever walked through.  I was lost in this darkness, stumbling through the best I could and repeatedly reaching painful dead ends, and I am now finally finding myself again.  I have never understood what that meant more than I do now as I slowly undo what had left me disheartened and paralyzed for so long.

Like many things in life, I don’t think you realize what you had until it’s gone.  This goes for the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I had been shrouded in uncertainty and doubt for so long that I wasn’t even excited about creating or writing.  I’ve come to realize that those two things which, if I’m being honest, go hand in hand, make up the very core of who I am.  When you lose all urging to do the very things that make up who you are as a person, I think the fog starts to lift and reveal the harsh reality that you’ve lost yourself.  Over the course of the past year I slowly began to give excuses for my lack of motivation to embark on even the simplest of tasks.  It all started with some bad days that slowly morphed into bad weeks, then bad months, then, ultimately what I would describe as a bad year.

When you are living in this place of darkness, you start to expect only bad things to come around every turn.  Road blocks start to become the norm and dismay a space to live in, not just a stop on the journey.  Pretty soon not feeling is the only way to keep on keeping on, but I couldn’t even do that.  Instead my anxiety skyrocketed and panic attacks became something I expected, crippling me to the point where all I could do was lay on my bed waiting for my cheeks to dry as I slowly drew in raggedy breaths and counted to ten over and over again.

Worry about things that are so upsetting they trigger these types of reactions consume everything, so it is no wonder, then, that other, more important, more fruitful, more satisfying, tenets of your life get put on a shelf far out of sight and mind, left to gather dust while more pressing matters are literally pressing in and making it hard to breath under the pressure.  But despite all this, there is still also a dim flickering light.  A light that only grows brighter in hindsight knowing that I made it – and am still making it – out of the shadows.

As I move into a new, brighter chapter of my narrative, I am struck by my desire now to create — to try new things, to interact, and to start fresh. Human beings are resilient in that they are able to continuously pick themselves up and dust themselves off. I have seen it time and time again, and I have now experienced it myself. I know that creativity is what makes life worth living, and although I’ve been rejected and gone through shadowy spurts where writing was the last thing on my mind, I still know this to be true.

So use this as a bit of encouragement. Although there is darkness, there is always light. There is always purpose. There is always that knowing — an intrinsic part of the human soul — that you will find yourself again, in a new place, but better than ever.

“But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” Job 23:10

On Growth Spurts

I, like most people, went through several growth spurts during middle school.  For most of my life I’ve been taller than the majority of kids my age, so these spurts were unwelcome.  I was more mature than many my age, too, which wasn’t always the most fun (though now I see it as a huge blessing).

I got braces smack dab in the middle of sixth grade, leaving me to be one of the only middle schoolers with metal wires stuck to my teeth and an adjuster situated in the roof of my mouth that was cranked with a key.

Growth spurts are not always fun when they occur in one’s formative years.  They make for awkward conversations, awkward feelings, and awkward appearances.  I am coming to learn, though, that growth spurts continue long after one has actually stopped growing.

Life has a way of stretching a person out.  We are all constantly being molded to fit the shape of the place we are in.  This is a type of growth, a type of re-shaping.  It is a harsh and soft process all at once.

Growth, if we are all being honest, is painful.  Even the physical type of growth can be – I distinctly remember my mother telling me that the occasional aches and pains I experienced in my limbs were growing pains.  Despite the pain that sometimes comes from growth, it is a beautiful thing.

As I have come to very recently recognize, I have been in a phase of growth for the past couple of years.  Looking back on where I was last year is startling.  There has been growth since then – it hurt at times and made me cry at others, but it was still growth.

Sometimes the only way to become a better person is to run through the fire, or slog through the mud, if I’m going to be more accurate.  I think the worst part about periods of growth is that I can tell when I am in one, mainly because it hurts in new and unexpected ways than ever before, but I cannot see the end goal.  I can’t see the person I will be in a week, in a month, in a year, I just know that person will be different than the person currently making her way through the swampland.

I find in these moments I must look to the good that I know will come of this, even though I don’t know when.  I can only grasp at what the future might bring – the brilliant dawn at the end of a dark night that I know will eventually come.  I must grasp on to hope for better times yet to come, for a better me that is yet to come.  I know one day I will be that person reflecting back on life and recognizing the beauty that came from this present pain.

And I can only hope that person will be a better one.

 

On Rejection

This is a post I never published from spring 2017, yet is particularly poignant after a slew of another type of rejections recently…

I’ve been meaning to write something about rejection for a while.  The thing is, I find this topic hard to talk about sometimes.  At this point in my writing career (stupidly early on, I must admit), I have been rejected more times than I can count.  While there seems to be quite a list developing on the writing page of this website, it took a lot of “no’s”to get there.  Even thought there have been more no’s than yeses and you’d think I would be used to rejection at this point, I’m not.  It still stings.

The past few weeks I have felt like that soda can, crushed over and over again by the shoe of rejection.

This afternoon, as a matter of fact, I was slogging around the house wallowing in the uncertainty that many of my most recent no’s have gotten me.  The last few no’s have hurt.  I’d like to be more writerly and use a word like stung which has a nicer ring to it here, but the reality is that they hurt.  It didn’t feel like I was stung by a bee, it felt like I was hit by bus.  No, like I was hit by a train.  Grad school rejections completely and totally crush you.  On my way to school today I saw a man picking up garbage on the side of the street.  He carefully put stray papers and candy bar wrappers in his bag, but when he came to a soda can deposited in the yellowing grass by the sidewalk, he placed it firmly on the cement before crushing it under his foot.  The past few weeks I have felt like that soda can, crushed over and over again by the shoe of rejection (that doesn’t quite sound right, but you get the point).

Last Friday, I was rejected not once, not twice, but three times by different literary magazines and for different creative pieces.  Three times in one day.  I set my own record.  The week before that I didn’t get into Minnesota State University, and a few weeks before that I didn’t get into Colorado State University.  Then, during a horrendous bout of the stomach flu, I was accepted to Memorial University but with no funding making it virtually impossible for me to attend.  A bittersweet acceptance, I guess we can call that one.

I don’t mean to throw myself a nice little pity party.  I mean to let you know that I am all too familiar with rejection.  It seems like in life in general, I have been rejected more than I have been accepted (this is probably an exaggeration, but I am going to roll with it).

I’m not giving up.

Despite the immense amount of crushing rejection I’ve been faced with the past few weeks, I’m not giving up.  After that terrible soda can metaphor, maybe I should, but I’m not.  Writing is what I want to do.  Rejection is part of the deal.  It’s a pretty crummy, soul sucking package deal that I’ve got, but it takes rejections like these to slowly build up that writing page.  It takes bad news to know how great an acceptance is when it comes.  It takes a heck of a lot of no’s to get a yes, but when that yes finally shows up it’s really, really worth it.

So yes, I was in tears this afternoon wondering if I’m good enough to every get a real yes. I can’t answer that question for myself (I think I’m great, I’m a little biased), but I can keep going.  I can keep trying until I get a yes – hopefully one after the other.  In a year, my goal is to be swimming in yeses.  For now, though, I’ll take that piece I just got a no on and submit it somewhere new, all the while crossing my fingers for that next grad school notification.

On Writing After College

Or, alternatively, things I wish someone would have told me.

You will most likely forget to write.  I know it seems impossible while you are in college immersed in writing everything from research papers to your weekly calendar, but you eventually it will slip your mind.

Sure, you will still write, but it won’t be the type of writing you have waited your whole life to do.  Your head will become so full of work lingo, so focused on the drama of the break room dishes, that writing another email is all you can manage to do during the day.  And yet, there will always be more emails.

You probably won’t have friends.  At least, not in the way you have friends now while enrolled in school.  Friends are friends – they stick by you no matter what.  This doesn’t change.  But your friends will stick by you via text or the occasional coffee run, not through late night study sessions or weekend hang outs.  You may go months without speaking, and then suddenly you are messaging them about their new kid, their engagement ring, or how they are hoping to go to grad school once they are no longer too broke to breathe.  This isn’t a bad thing – you will pick up where you left off each time and it will be as if no time has passed at all.  But life goes on, and time does pass, and each day the sun moves through the sky like you move through the many seasons of One Tree Hill on Hulu.

Your will to try will diminish, then come roaring back when a fresh match sparks your fire, only to be blown out again.  You will come to realize that your day is made up of the same mundane things and that nothing really changes.  Sleep will become a prized luxury that merely fuels you up to go search for your will to try for eight hours every day.  You most likely will not find it, but the trying is what truly tests your character.

You might come to relate to your parents more than you relate to college students.  You will work at a college because you think that it is where fostering of the mind occurs, where all great writing and reading takes place, but you will quickly realize there is more to life than school.  You may feel old.  You are not, but the aching of your shoulders from your bad posture everyday and the creak of your back from your insistence on sticking to an exercise routine will make you feel like you are at retirement age.  Your 401K will say otherwise.

You could start a blog.  Let’s be honest, you probably will, but writing it will become so tedious that you will instead blindly submit your short stories and poems to any literary journal that does not charge a reading fee.  And you will not write as much new material as you wish you could.  As you wish you did.  As you wish you were.

You may get stuck, wondering how to start writing the millions of ideas you have in your head.  You probably stopped writing in the little notebook your creative writing professor insisted upon you having to record the everyday magic around you.  You notice the magic, but it is fleeting.  Your ideas swim in the dank abyss of your mind instead.

You may experience all of these things, but remember that you are still the same person who was excited about graduation.  Deep down inside of your body that has become merely a series of inter-working gears that pull you up out of bed in the morning, there is a soft spot that still feels.  Do not lose that spot, protect it with the glasses, sensible shoes, business casual wardrobe, and low maintenance hairstyle that keep you sane day in and day out.

Remember the magnificent in the mundane.

On the Circle of Life

If you read the title to this post and instantaneously thought of The Lion King, know that this was the goal. Well, that and some other things that I’m planning to address in the coming paragraphs, but it is my sincerest hope that you read these words whilst humming along to the Disney melody in your head. You’re welcome.

Regardless of the connection to The Lion King, I have been ruminating as of late on the cyclical nature of life and, of course, of writing.  In the spring I attended another PPWC and was amazed at the way everything came full circle.  It was a year later, with a newly minted me (although really not much had changed since the last edition) with slightly changed versions of the same people and more new things to learn.  It was an interesting experience, being both familiar and unfamiliar with what was going on, having the same conversations (more or less) that I had the previous year, and still feeling like everything with completely different.

I’m now going through a similar process with a new job.  It’s new, but it’s also the same process that I’m going through as the last time I was the new person at a job.  It’s in the same field as my last position, but harder in some ways and easier in others.  I’m still in school, but as a staff member.  There’s still students, but I am (supposedly) older and wiser than them.  I find myself relating to the students I help more than my coworkers.  Maybe it’s my age.  Maybe it’s the freshness of my degree (which I’m still waiting on, by the way – that silly piece of paper needs to come in the mail already).

To get back to more writerly things, I just had a story published online. (please note the literary journal is now defunct)  It was an honor, and it’s one of my favorite stories that I’ve written, but I went through the same cycle I have so many times to get there.  Why was this submission different from the other fifty that didn’t get in anywhere?  And once my story got in (again, a huge honor), the process was just like when I’ve had other stories published, yet it was a new magazine with new readers and a new idea that I had put out into the world.

I feel like life in general is cyclical.  Yes, time moves in a straight line, but in many ways, that line does a lot of loop-de-loops.  Up until a little over a month ago (it was really only that short time ago?) my loop-de-loop was the school year.  Start school, struggle through the semester, take finals, have a break, go back to school, end of year finals, summer break, repeat.  Now I will have a similar cycle, but a different role.  Now my days will be cyclical, and my years will be too, but not in quite the same way.  My writing, I’m sure will be cyclical.  I’m planning on applying to grad school again (this time only to schools I would 100% go to if I were to get in) and going through that cycle once more.  I will write, and I will edit, and I will submit, then I will write some more.  Life is cyclical, writing life is cyclical, and some of the best plot-lines in literature are cyclical.

While thinking about this concept may seem fruitless, my dwelling on this is something that I think will help in my writing.  I’ve realized that life is full of twists, turns, and now loop-de-loops, which will help me write life in a more realistic way.  I can take a character’s life and habits to a whole other level, and take The Lion King, and all the truth that’s found in that silly little song to heart.

 

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 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 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.