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Communicating on Your Own Terms

Texting and IMing have definitely increased communication, but my question is: What has been lost?

It’s helpful to have the availability to be in constant contact with family and friends, but with over-communication through technology, we often create unnecessary anxiety. Why didn’t this friend/significant other/parent/child get right back to us? What if they misunderstood our quick comment? What if they are driving and feel they have to answer? What did their message mean? Were they trying to be funny? Sarcastic? Nasty? And, what if you left your Smartphone home or were temporarily out of range of reception?

I have to take a deep breath here—I’m getting anxious just thinking about it.  As someone who is considered a “Digital Immigrant,” or one who was not born into existing technology, I always decide if I want to adopt new ways of communicating through technology.  I tried texting (love it), IMing (use it at work), Facebook (bored by it) and LinkedIn (joined but haven’t found the time to log on).  This is where conscious individual choice can help those overwhelmed by these communication platforms.  What do you get out of each? Is it valuable to you or worth the time?

According to the Pew Research Center, texting is up by 600 percent in three years. With that large increase, we shouldn’t have any communication gap or loneliness; yet we do.  Maybe that’s because we’re foregoing precious time communicating with ourselves, rather than being constantly in touch with others. With loved ones and millions of strangers just one touch of a screen away, we have forgotten the importance of time to sit quietly, think, rest, and just be comfortable with ourselves.

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.