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My Writing Vacation

The first story I wrote, that wasn’t in cartoon format, was a 3 page short story called the “big bad bully.”  I was eight-years-old. Since then, I’ve written tons of short stories, poems, plays. Each year or two I start a new idea for a novel.  However, I never finalize any of them.  I start them and then they disappear in to some magical room of forgotten ideas.  Admittedly, some of my stories and poems are horrible (most probably are!), but there are some, I think, that could have potential if I only put the time into editing and revising them. I’ve never tried to get published because I know nothing I’ve written is at that polished stage.

If I had the time, I would set aside a couple hours a day to write fiction and poetry. Actually, I have a story that I started a couple years ago and I work sporadically on it; however, whenever I start working on it I feel guilty that I am not working on school work, not cleaning, not spending time with a friend I haven’t seen in a while or not doing something else. So I stop and do something else…something more “productive.”

One day, in the not so distant future, I dream about having a little house by a lake where I can write a novel. I picture myself sitting outside on a dock with a glass of ice-tea and my laptop.  That said, if I could, I would love to take a writing vacation or retreat to such a location.  I would escape for a week or two with a few friends who are also working on some writing. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to take a week’s vacation like that in the near future, but a girl can dream.

Editing tips

What is the best way to edit?  Try to remove yourself from your ideas and become a reader.  Do your words make sense, or were they understandable because you “knew” what you were trying to say?  I try to go back and ask, “if I never sat in the class, or read the text, or wrote this myself, could I still follow the ideas?”  If not, give more explanation of your points, watch for run-ons, and eliminate convoluted clauses that should be fully thought out sentences.

If I could write about anything I wanted to, I would definitely take the time to do some creative writing.  I am at heart a creative writer and have not had the chance to take a creative-writing class, (or write creatively for fun), since my junior year of college when I took Creative Non-Fiction Writing with Dr. James Nash (who has, sadly, retired).  I am currently an English major (duh) and am concentrating in Writing Studies, but seldom have the time to write creatively for school.  I should mention that I am very happy with my concentration because I think it is forcing me to write more analytically.  I am also learning how to teach others to write analytically—clearly these are two attributes that I will find useful as a writing teacher.  The scholarship I read and the papers I write about writing studies are very useful but I would love to take a break and write creatively for a bit.

Since I am a full-time student, I do not have much time for this now but when I graduate this August, I plan to start writing for fun again.  I have always wanted to write a novel that may one day evolve into a play or movie script.  After I graduate, I plan to start brainstorming on this.

When I was in middle school, I wrote this massive movie script that was a spoof on soap operas.  It started out small but then I revised it into a lengthy script that contained three acts (there I go revising to death again)!   I cannot wait until I have the time to devote to a project like this–maybe this time Hollywood will buy it!

So far, I do not know what my novel will be about but I am looking for inspiration everywhere.  So if you see me in the fall, consider being my muse and providing me with inspiration for my novel…if it goes bestseller, I’ll remember you!

If I could take a writing vacation…

If I could take a vacation from all of my required writing, I would work on my novel. I started it about two summers ago (wow, has it been that long already?) but I have not made as much progress as I would have liked. Creative writing has always been a passion of mine since I was young. I loved writing stories for my classes in elementary school, and even won a few poetry contests throughout the years. I constantly find myself thinking of stories; ideas come to me during idle moments unexpectedly in the form of movie trailers. I’ve tried making deals with myself in which I would attempt to write just a little bit every week, even if it’s only a few pages. However, with all my academic work, I can never seem to justify taking the time to “write for fun.” It’s rather unfortunate. The one good thing is that I have lots of time to think about the ideas I do have, and really flesh them out. Once in a while, I am overwhelmed by an idea and need to write it down immediately, even if it’s just a few sentences in the back of my planner or in my notes section on my computer. Sometimes when I’m bored in class or doing things around the house, I will let my mind wonder to the people and places I’ve created for my book. I let my brain live there from time to time to have a well deserved break from reality. This really lets me get in touch with my characters and helps me to develop a concrete understanding of the places that set the stage for my story. So even when I cannot take a “writing vacation,” I give my brain mini “creative vacations” a few times a week.

With spring break around the corner, I like to imagine myself sitting on a beach with a notebook in hand, scribbling away scene after scene until sunset. I always find the ocean to be refreshing and inspiring. Maybe it’s the actor in me, but I like to get into character when I write. The lighting, sounds, and setting have to be just right for me. How often do we see in movies or other books the characterization of a writer with nature as their muse? In addition to the ocean, a quiet cabin in the woods overlooking a lake would work quite well for me. I would sit on the porch with my laptop and a strong cup of coffee, writing the day away. Alas, I will not be going anywhere for spring break, but instead spend the whole time working on midterms and reading assignments for the rest of the semester. I’m hoping that summer will afford me some time to really make progress…even if it’s just a few more chapters…

I’d be a travel writer also

I agree with Janet; I’d also be a travel writer.  I have been addicted to travel memoirs for many, many years.  I love them — I love how they relay so much about the writer and his and her culture, and about the culture the author is visiting. When someone is in a foreign country, s/he is often forced to get a good look at who s/he really is and how s/he feels about different issues. Travel also helps that person the see how his or her own culture comes into that mix.

Before kids, my husband and I used to travel a lot, and now my kids buy me travelogues for my birthday and for Mother’s Day.

Spring Break Dreams

Since it’s spring break time, I confess that I’d love to be a travel writer. I often bring a journal on vacation, or use hotel stationery, jotting down my reactions to the sights, the people, or the food of the place I’m visiting.  Sometimes I recap the day using the pictures I’ve taken or brochures from museums as a prompt for capturing the memories of the day.

The stories I like to tell the most center on the unexpected—the misadventures that can be funny or frightening.  Getting lost is one of the best ways to find travel treasures that map-toting tourists on guided excursions never get to see.  Just like good essay writing, in travel writing, the narrower the better.  A busload of Parisian students visiting the Eiffel Tower and squeezing into the elevator with you can provide pages of interesting details that the tour book explanation of the landmark may not inspire.

I have heard that travel writers get paid very little, but the perks might make up for the low pay.  After all, you don’t have to stay in five star hotels or eat at expensive restaurants to enjoy traveling. As the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam notes, “A loaf or bread, a jug of wine and thou…”  Add a journal to capture the simple pleasures of travel and anyplace in the world can be remembered as paradise.

Writing for an audience

What’s most difficult about writing?

Writing for an audience. Hands down.

I feel like I need to clarify myself here, because even though teachers count as my “audience,” I’m not really talking about them. Sure, I take them into consideration and try to meet their expectations, occasionally pausing to see if what I’m writing fits their standards, but I don’t tend to stress about it. What does stress me out is when my peers have to read when I’ve written.

That’s when I start freaking out.

As an undergraduate, I took three creative writing classes. Each of these involved workshops in which we’d read what our classmates had written and give feedback on it. The author was not usually allowed to talk until the very end. First, we would start out with what we liked about the story. This was the easiest and most lighthearted part about these workshops, because some people never got used to giving constructive criticism to their classmates, aloud, in front of everyone. But eventually the positive comments would end, and the class would be filled with a palpable silence as we waited for our teacher to say what would inevitably come next:

“Constructive criticism?”

There was always a moment, a beat, in which everyone looked around to see who would dare to start. Then once one person talked, the hands would go up, one by one.

“I’ve seen it come to blows before; try to keep your comments professional and respectful,” a teacher said once, on our first day of workshops. “And writers: try not to take anything personally.”

How could you not take it personally when writing itself is so personal? I never slept the night before my workshops, never. I remember the slow horror of realizing, at 4 am, that I hated everything I had written, all 15 pages of it. My audience was all I could think about; I just wanted to write something good enough for them.

And then the workshops. I can breathe a sigh of relief just thinking about them because they were never as scary as I thought they would be. Writing that first draft was brutal, but for subsequent drafts I felt energized because every comment—positive or negative—inspired me. I was proud of what I had done well and I was eager to strengthen the rest. It was so interesting to look at my writing (somewhat) objectively and see it through the eyes of the reader.

Even though writing for an audience of my peers used to be nerve-racking, in the end it was always so fulfilling to hear their responses.  Now I see peer-reviewing as an integral part of my writing process. No matter how many times I try to put myself in the reader’s perspective, I always miss something until I hand off my writing to an actual reader.

As for the all-nighters, well, procrastination may have been a key factor as well. That’s something I still need to work on, but I’m really in no rush…

High Seas Writing Center

It was a glorious postcolonial weekend. Not only did I liberate myself from my studies long enough to see The King’s Speech, but I stumbled across an old but unsold Dover Thrift Edition of the narratives of James Cook’s voyages at a failing Borders bookstore in Paramus, NJ.

The circa 1970s introduction to the paperback briefly discusses something I’ve never read before in my study of the Captain. Namely, how he worked to become a better writer. Perhaps he “discovered” process theory, too.

Captain James Cook becomes a better writer.

(Citation to come. I promise.)

Polishing

For me one of the most difficult stages of the writing process is polishing.  The reason why I find it challenging is because I never know when I should be “done” with a piece of writing and I can never be sure if it is “perfect.”  I think I focus on these elements for a few specific reasons: I am a perfectionist so I tend to pick at my writing even if I am satisfied with it and I am also a huge advocate for the revision process—for me, no piece of writing is ever “done.”

This obviously presents a problem for me being a full-time graduate student.  Although I usually do not procrastinate on assignments, I do tend to “over revise” (if there is such a thing).  If I have two weeks to write a three-page paper, I will spend two weeks on it.

My typical writing process is as follows: I freewrite in order to get my thoughts out on paper and usually do not read my writing until the next day.  At that point, I dissect it in order to pull out concentrated moments of “brilliance” from which I expand upon (usually I do more research at this stage when warranted).  I then walk away from the prose again and revisit it the next day.  I then revise the paper a million times!!!

I suppose this is not the worst writing concern one could have, but it does effect my time management.

“Looking for the Patterns in Static/ They Start to Make Sense/ the Longer I’m at it” 1

The “aggregate of scholastic demons” in my head have been working overtime. I am taking a break from working on my M.A. thesis to try to silence some of those shrieks.

Liz enters the room: Tell me, have you written anything yet? Tell me this, do you open a book at all?

Description of Liz: Sexy, successful, sweet, persistent; thinks I should be finished with my thesis (oh, I’m just about done with that horror show of horrible horrors). Well?

I have several pages.

As I was saying before I was interrupted, I reread my previous post (“Fear and Loathing in the Writing Process: My Biggest Problem and My Greatest Difficulty”) and it occurred to the demons (or myself, or all of us) that they (or I, or we) were not totally satisfied with what was written. It was the word “pattern” that rubbed them the wrong way and like all the hounds of hades, be it Orthrus, Cerberus, or some other lesser known cur, if one wishes to engage in the inadvisable action of rubbing a multi-mouthed beast, it is best to rub rightly.

So what’s the rub with “pattern”? Well, the voices in my head had this to say: Pattern finding, that’s something you do in high school English classes and outgrow QUICKLY- as an undergraduate. Pattern finding is not the work of a Graduate Student.

– Well then, what may I ask is the work of a graduate student?

It’s not pattern finding!

Just like the conversations I never had with my parents as a child:

-Why?

Because I said so!

Clearly, either one of us does not know what the work of an English Major is, or, one of us does not know how to explain that work. Since the party of the first party and the party of the second party are both boogieing at the same schizophrenic soiree they’d better keep the noise down or the neighbors are likely to complain.

– Neighbors?

– Forget it, he’s rolling.

I must rectify this static-electric situation for myself, before the karma cops knock down the door and haul me away to some top-secret detention center for dissenters.

Let’s pretend, for the sake of argument, that I’m playing devil’s advocate. (This could get tricky, because I’m playing at playing devil’s advocate, but the demons are on the con-side of pattern finding not the pro-side. Maybe the demons are playing devil’s advocate to devil’s advocate. {Is one of those an example of Derrida’s absence of the opposite and if so which one? God knows, but simply smirks behind a pair of aviator glasses awaiting his “Breakfast of Champions.”- Oh, God, in Your infinite Witticisms, does différance exist?).

Silence, in and out of parentheses.

If God won’t help me, let’s see what I can do with the devil’s details.

I propose, contrary to what the voices in my head assert, that what we do in English classes is always pattern finding. Furthermore, the more advanced we get, the more sophisticated the patterns are. Sometimes those patterns are so advanced that critics of our field claim there is no pattern. And sometimes those critics are right. Which critics? That’s not entirely clear. Oh, you know which critics I’m talking about. But allow me to clarify I wrote a limerick about it, wanna hear it, here it goes:

If we want people to take us seriously

We should work with Foucault’s History

Excavating the powers

Of Babel text towers

And resist being clever but silly.

I think what I’m saying in verse is that as English Major’s / literary critics/ graduate students/ scholar/professors we should concern ourselves with literature’s place in, and depiction of, its historical setting; as x/x/x/x/x we are specially trained to bring to light the patterns of power embedded in a specific historical context hiding just below the surface of the text. But I can never be sure with all the voices in my head. But that doesn’t have anything to do with patterns. (Case in point.) Eh, hem, it has everything to do with patterns.

One example of a pattern isn’t a pattern at all: it’s an anomaly, an unexplained blip on the radar screen scroll upon which the infinite amount of monkeys hammer away at their script of Hamlet. Two blips is interesting, but not entirely convincing. However, once you can find three or four examples of something, then you can show a pattern of evidence. The work of the x/x/x/x/x is to then analyze the pleasure out of it. I remembering reading for pleasure –– slowly, several years ago, savoring every syllable, there were sad signs: Pota had a pain in the neck. Ah, but a thing of beauty makes a useless explanation, but a pattern and those who can identify them, those we hold in the highest regard!

What is an IQ test, if not a measure of how well one can identify a pattern with less and less evidence? Everything we do is based on patterns! (Except for this post, for this post I have decided to demonstrate what an argument without a pattern would look like). But doesn’t that mean it is a satire and aren’t satires a representation of reality,“a regular and intelligible form or sequence discernible in certain actions or situations?” Oh, damn you, demons and your definitions! Damn you, and your rhetorical assaults on my rhetoric. I thought I reinforced the gate with the help of Godot, but I forgot he never showed.

Yes, it’s a pattern, it’s all patterns! We love patterns and we praise the ability of those who can identify and can create them. We crown them with their laurel wreaths/ kissing their rings and bow to their feet. What is sudoku, a crossword puzzle, an IQ test, if not some measure of person’s ability to decipher patterns? Language, spelling, grammar, essays, poetry, rhyme, motif, alliteration: patterns. Some have gone so far as to site the universe itself as a great pattern: all DNA (infinite base pairs of A,C,G, &T), atoms, (protons , electrons, and neutrons) quarks, (up, down, charm, strange, top, and bottom {I’m not kidding that’s what they’re called and I believe they are referred to as flavors [it’s good to know someone else takes his career as seriously as me]}). The universe in its infinite diversity is merely the simple replication of patterns. The boy I was at fourteen tossing and turning in bed, on the sea of not knowing envisioned the the rings of Saturn revolving in elliptic perfection, decided there was a God, death need not be feared, and so drifted softly into his next existential nightmare: who made the watch-maker and does it matter if you tell time with an analog as opposed to a digital bible? 1, 2, 3. [Crunch.] The world may never know.

1 Death Cab for Cutie “Lightness” Transatlanticism Seattle: Barsuk Records, 2003.