A BIG THANK YOU!!

To everyone who participated in this 2017 Writer’s March!  And especially to…

  • Marisa PC
  • Randi Beck
  • Bob Sabatini
  • Cynthia Patton
  • Jennifer Simpson
  • Lenore Gusch
  • Melanie Unruh
  • Nari Kirk

…or being such wonderful (and often last minute!) bloggers!  This was a last minute push to bring back this project, and without your help and support, none of this would have been possible!

We hope to see you all next time!  Now onward to April, National Poetry Month!  Who’s with me!  Mwahahahaha!

TBT: Day 30: Marching into the Void

This post was originally published March 30, 2013, and is one of my favorite posts ever.  It has been revisited in honor of Throw Back Thursday.  (Also, I find it amazing to remember that we once had over 50 participants!  I was much better at gathering the forces that year.  Next year, we’ll aim for more!)

 

By guest blogger Lenore Gusch

Back when I was still a student, complaining about being in school, how all of my time seemed to go to studies that didn’t have anything to do with my writing, and how much more creative I could be if I just had more time to myself, everyone warned me that life after graduation would be different, and maybe not in the ways I wanted. No more deadlines. No more workshops and writing prompts. No more interesting literary internships. No more instant writing community at my fingertips. My motivation to keep at it would have to be entirely my own.

It was true. I graduated, and suddenly was writing into a void. The writing community that had nurtured me for four years went missing.

Many of us on the March have been lucky to keep in touch with our writerly friends from school or to find our own new writing communities. (I still send drafts and story ideas back and forth with a few of my close friends.) Some have been even luckier to go on to MFAs, lead their own creative writing classrooms, or find other careers that foster their continuing to write. But I suspect that out of the fifty-six challengers this month, there are just as many of us who are not surrounded by a single other writer in our day to day lives. (My boyfriend sometimes jokes that he is illiterate, which, although completely untrue, still sends chills down my spine. He rarely reads and never, ever writes.) Many have other full time careers, significant others, and/or families commanding their attention. (Lots of it!) And still, we write on. For some reason, we insist upon it.

A lot of the posts on this March have been about doubts. “Why am I doing this?” “Am I crazy?” “Is my writing any good?” “What is the value of art, anyway?” Some of these are easier to answer, like the first one. Revisit Jennifer Simpsons blog to see why a whole slew of writers are sticking with this insane endeavor. Some of them are more problematic, like the second one. (Only you can tell you how truly neurotic you may or may not be, and why, and if you’re really crazy, you probably won’t be able to tell!) I tend to get hung up on the last one. What is the value of art? What is the value of writing? Why is it important that we tell stories to one another? Are there better things I should be doing? I have a deep belief built from groundless faith that it IS important. That it is, perhaps, the most important thing that humans can do while they’re stuck here together on the earth. But when it comes to articulating this to a society-at-large which is less and less invested in art as a measure of success and happiness, I often falter.

As a student, I had a built in excuse when I needed to go “work.” Now, when I have to explain to my boss why I don’t want to work full time at the douchey steakhouse downtown, or why I don’t want to go to yet another family dinner with my pseudo-inlaws, I can’t play the student card. I just have to be a degenerate recluse who isn’t motivated by things that make sense, like making as much money as possible, finding a career, starting a family, yadda yadda yadda. Instead, I’m just messing around with this weird hobby that few people really “get.” (I thought about writing a whole post on how society tends to measure success, and how we fit in—or don’t—as writers, but it goes down such a bitter rabbit hole that I thought better of it.)

Still, we are compulsive. We are crazy. We are going to do this thing no matter what, right?

Playing by the Mississippi river.  Absolutely not writing.

All that being said, I will be the first guest blogger this month to confess that I totally, utterly failed at reaching my Writer’s March goals this time around. Partly, it was just bad timing. The busiest month of the year at the douchey steakhouse is March, and I was working twice as many shifts as I usually do, which left little time or energy for anything else. Then, I spent a week in New Orleans with my two best friends and my illiterate boyfriend, where I ate and drank and napped to excess, cooked, read, took pictures, biked around the city exploring and listening to great live music. I had a wonderful, wonderful time. I never picked up a pen the entire time I was there. So partly, it was timing, but partly I was unwilling to be that crazy degenerate recluse who skips out on that breakfast with friends or that last beer in order to go home and write. I didn’t demand it.

We’ve established during this month together that, for whatever reason, this writing thing makes us happy. It fills some need in us. My advice is: embrace the fact that you may, indeed, be a crazy reclusive degenerate. Stop justifying your motives to yourself and others. If you need to work less (ya know, for “the man”) and write more, demand it. If you need more time alone, demand it. If the only way you can produce anything is with Ziggy Stardust playing on repeat at top volume, demand it. Society be damned! When you start to do more of what makes you happy and fulfilled, low and behold, you will become a more productive member of society anyhow. You will become a better lover, parent, and worker because your neurotic, creative itch will be scratched, and then you can contentedly go about other things.

Now that I’m getting ready to march out into the void again, I regret that I didn’t take more advantage of all the lovely advice and writing prompts this month. I wish that Writer’s March could last all year. I want to run around screaming “No! Don’t leave me! Don’t go! I don’t want to be alone again!” But the spirit of the March can carry on!

I try to read something, write something, and play at least one instrument every day, for any amount of time, even if it’s just five minutes. It’s sort of a mini-March that I keep in mind all year long. Here are some things I do to that help:

  • Set goals. They don’t have to be as extensive as what you chose to do in March. They don’t have to be daily. But as Sam keeps assuring us, they really do help.
  • Keep in touch with your writer friends. (Some of these bloggers have their own blogs you can follow, for example.) Even if they are only virtual, remember that you are not the only crazy one. Exchange work if at all possible, and if you’re lucky, find people who will give you honest critiques.
  • Buy a book of writing exercises, or look them up online, and play with them when you don’t feel like working on other projects.
  • Ask friends for writing prompts (even then non-writerly friends) and then give them the results (even if they don’t care).
  • Read as much as possible. I always think of reading as brain-food. Without enough brain-food your brain will be too hungry to write when you sit down to do it.
  • Remember that you don’t need to justify what you’re doing—to yourself or anyone else. 

Good luck out there. I’ll miss you!

Fallow Fields

By Guest Blogger Cynthia Patton

35th Birthday Rental Lenses 086Okay, I’ll admit it. Before Writer’s March, I hadn’t written anything for several months. Why? I’m not sure. Why do any of us lose momentum and stop doing something that we love, something we know in our heart of hearts is as essential as air?

Perhaps one day I will have the answer to this mystery, but for now all I know is that I often go through fallow periods in my writing. At these times, the words seem dead—except they aren’t.  They are merely dormant like roses and fruit trees, waiting for longer, warmer days to produce a rush of new growth and blooms. I may not like it, but I’ve learned to trust this cycle, trust that the words will eventually come just as spring follows a hard winter.

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There have been many changes and new developments in my life of late. It’s taken me 50-plus years, but I’ve learned that sometimes it behooves me to sit back and wait, see what happens before I open my mouth or put pen to paper. I’d like to say that’s what I’ve been doing, but it wouldn’t really be true. I wasn’t consciously waiting for anything. I was stuck in neutral, mindlessly spinning my gears. I wanted to write, but I couldn’t muster the strength/will/courage to do so.

It’s not as if I’ve been completely idle. Instead of writing I’ve been meeting new people, reading, and watching movies. I’ve been gathering strength for battles I know will come. I’ve been cooking and creating new recipes as well as working hard on book promotion for my poetry collection.

The other thing I’ve been doing is going within, wandering in the wilderness of myself. I always tend towards introspection in winter, but this year I went deeper and farther than ever before. I questioned my assumptions, re-evaluated my priorities. This has been an ongoing process since my daughter’s autism diagnosis and my subsequent separation and divorce, but this year it felt as if I’m finally at the truth, getting to the core of what it means to be me.

Maybe it’s because of this, but I feel ready to tackle the next (and probably hardest) phase of my memoir. I could be wrong, but I think if I make a push I can finish it. Or at least get close.  Perhaps I needed the fallow period to prepare for this task Or maybe it was merely procrastination, pure and simple. I’m not sure. What I do know is that writing is easier when I stop fighting and trust the process.

It’s easier, but never easy.

Dorothea Brande’s “Formula for Success”: The Will to Fail Revisited

At the onset of this Writer’s March Challenge, I wrote about Dorothea Brande and the “Will to Fail,” a concept based on Nietzsche’s “Will to Power” that seeks to name the human propensity towards self sabotage.   As I explained,

Each person has a dream, a goal, an internal sense of what would make their lives better (their own will to power, so to speak), but each person’s will to power [is] usurped by the stronger will to fail.

selfsabotageyoursuccessMany people have watched Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech, a video I shared and discussed many years ago.  In this speech, Gaiman talks to a group of graduating art students about how to make it as artists in today’s world.  He tells them to always keep in mind what they have at the top of their mountain (their life goal).  Then, when faced with choices on what to do next, he said, keep in mind this mountain and choose options that will take you closer to the top.  And so, put another way, the “Will to Fail” involves all the life choices we make that either take us down or away from our mountains.  It also (perhaps most importantly) asks us to examine all the reasons we stop climbing altogether.

So, what do we do to avoid this “Will to Fail”?  How do we overcome it? In other words, I keep hinting at Brande’s formula for success, but have yet to offer it up.  And so, I offer it now.  As Brande Says,

All that is necessary to break the spell of inertia and frustration is this: Act as if it were impossible to fail.

Continue reading

The Last (Soundbite) Supper

Guest post by Randi Ocena

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First of all, do you like how I worked that pre-Easter reference in the title there?  Second of all, did you know that several well-known scholars believe The Last Supper actually occurred on April 1st? And did you also know that some lesser known scholars believe April Fool’s Day originated as a lighthearted attempt to cheer up that otherwise sad and somber occasion? (That last bit may not be true, so best not go repeating it to your friends and colleagues.)

Anyhow, here is the final installment of podcast recommendations, suitable for writers of all ages, genders, and religious affiliations.

Creative Writing Career  

This one is all business, but in that casual Friday sort of way.  Each episode typically features one guest writer, plus a notable hosting panel of writers from all across the board (books, screen, videogames). Topics are highly specific for each episode but wide-ranging across the series and include things like not screwing up your great novel with a crappy query letter, keeping the attention of young children for more than two seconds, and choosing the right tags in descriptions of your book for the online market.

Writing Class Radio

Sometimes writers like to overshare. Sometimes we don’t share enough.This podcast is all about the oversharing. One episode that stands out is perhaps “I Fart, You Fart, We All Fart and Most Of Us Deny It.” Also “How To Tell Your Inappropriate Story” which includes the phrase “he grazed my uh, anatomy” and some background cat noise & guitar music with whispering.  Fiction, non-fiction, laughing, crying. It’s all here, sometimes all at once.  It took a couple of episodes, buy I’m a fan.

Story Makers Show

Before I try to sell you on this last podcast, I’d like to get two minor gripes out of the way that nearly stopped me listening to it beyond the first 11 seconds:  1) Whether the title refers to a show belonging to two story makers or whether it refers to a show intended for all story makers in general, I’d like to see some possessive noun punctuation in there . In short, I find the absence of an apostrophe in the title distracting, as evidenced by the fact that I am mentioning it at all. But then, I am also disturbed by the use of mismatching hangers on my side of the closet, so whatever. 2) There are 11 seconds of electronic noise (music?) at the beginning of the show which shouldn’t bother me, but I feel strongly compelled to mute it.

All that aside, this is a good show featuring the usual writerly podcast fare: Interviews, Q & A, advice, readings. So why mention this one when there are so many others like it?  Partly, I like that it adds some academic depth & heart to the usual craft discussion without being pretentious or mushy.  But mostly, I like that it is a show dominated by scores of sharp, witty, diverse and talented women. Seriously, just try finding a straight white male writer on this show. I haven’t yet.  (And straight white guy readers, please don’t get offended. Some of my best friends are straight white guys, really.)

And lastly, for dessert, I leave you with this.

This” is a hyperlink to a  whole list of more writerly podcasts, a list written by someone other than me.  Some of it will be familiar to you by now, but I don’t have enough ears or hours to listen to every last one of them.  I hesitated to include it here without the proper vetting first.  But just like the time I failed at marriage by hiding cookies in the furthest reaches of the pantry to protect Sam from potential poisoning by untested cookies, I cannot win at blogging by trying to protect you from potentially crappy or harmful podcasts through extreme vetting or religious popquizzes (comedic callback & political elbow nudge in one go…Ta-da).

So with that I say, listen with discretion and I hope you’ll find something to like. Or as my mother says, be safe and have fun, in that order.

So until next year, friends–Happy  listening, happy writing, happy marching. And many other happy things too.

 

 

Compass Divination: Finding Direction in the Cards

Last week, Bob requested that this week’s “Divination Inspiration” post be inspired by a bag of stones.  Unfortunately, the stones nor the bag could be found!  (I guess it will have to wait until next year, eh?)  Instead, I went to my favorite oracle deck, The Enchanted Map:

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The Enchanted Map is a favorite not just because the cards are beautiful, but also because it has shown me over and over again that there is more to this world than meets the eye…  As with the previous oracle posts, feel free to use these cards as today’s inspiration (for your life or your writing) and/or as a writing prompt.  You can consider the “you” to be YOU-you or one of your characters (or both of course).

And so, without further fanfare, I offer up five cards from the Enchanted Map deck: Continue reading

TBT: Here’s to Disgust

This post originally appeared on March 6, 2013.  It has returned in honor of Throw-Back Thursday!

Yesterday, as I was washing dishes, I ran the sponge over the final cutting board and Randi and I caught of whiff of something foul.  We looked at each other.  “Did you smell that?” I asked.  We checked behind us (beware floating clouds of filth!).  We checked our shoes.  I even went so far as to smell–discreetly–my own armpits.  We narDSCN3357rowed in on the sponge at the same time, bending over the sink, our nostrils flared and sniffing.

Once, when I worked in a Berkeley retail store, someone thought it was a good idea to set mouse traps in ignored corners of the building–the back of the photo lab, along the balcony, amidst the scores and scores of refrigerator-sized boxes of Croc Shoes and Gaiaim yoga mats.  The traps were then forgotten until one day the scent of decay wafted over the ventilation system.

The sponge smelled like that.  Randi and I both reared back, the same wrinkled noses and gagging tongues.  Our reaction was so synchronized, it felt premeditated.  I tossed the sponge in the trash, activated another, and immediately rewashed the entire dripping stack.

In “The Strange Politics of Disgust,” David Pizarro, a psychologist who studies the way emotions affect moral judgements, presents a handful of interesting findings about this basic human emotion, including the origins of disgust (as a survival skill) and the psychology of disgust (and how it ties into hate).  In the past, I’ve had a handful of writing prompts that revolve around fear.  This year, I thought why not turn our pens towards another powerful feeling?  And so, here are three writing prompts inspired by Pizarro’s talk: Continue reading

The Hats We Wear

Guest Blog by Melanie Unruh

 

2012-05-12 08.45.32.jpgAt my college graduation, my Spanish professor told my family that I am someone who grabs hold of an idea and refuses to let it go until I’ve seen it through to the end. At the time, I thought this was just an amusing anecdote, but the more I live, the more I know it’s true: I hate to be interrupted.  Inspiration is such a fleeting, fickle thing that when it comes my way, especially when it relates to writing, I don’t want to lose my flow of ideas.

Fast-forward to eleven years after that graduation ceremony. Uninterrupted work of any kind is a luxury, a miracle, even. On a given day, I am a teacher, a student, a wife, a mother, an entrepreneur, and yes, a writer. These are only the major titles. There is no such thing as continuity.

I love my life, but sometimes I think I’m half-assing every single thing I do. How can I call myself a writer when I have to force myself to carve out time for it? After my son goes to bed in the evening, I usually have a pile of dishes and a mountain of essays that need attention. I can’t remember the last time I changed the cat litter, but they’re not shittting on the floor yet, so that’s okay, right? The winter has been long and full of late night snacks, so I really need to start working out again. But what about writing? Continue reading

Sunday Sound-bites: The Week 3 Edition

By Guest Blogger Randi Beck

Think of today’s offerings as two tapas of the podcast world. Each is a very listenable 25-35 minutes and gives you just enough to think about but not so much that your head will explode.

Here they are:

why I writeWhy I Write

This one is brought to you by the National Council for Teachers of English and consists of 30 minute interviews with writers of all sorts.  The writers are delightful & inspiring. The host sounds like a morning radio disc jockey. The intermittent sounds of traffic, birds, and shuffling papers gives away the fact that all or most of these interviews are done over the phone…in other words, sound quality is not always top notch, but it doesn’t really interrupt the experience.  It’s still very new as it started up late last year, but episodes are released every two weeks.

LoreLore

Yes, if you are a frequenter checker-upper of what’s new and hip in podcasts, you’ve seen this name before. You’ll be entertained and (if you’re a good listener) you can learn some things about story-telling or gather some sci-fi/mystery/horror inspiration from these creepy, suspense tales based on true stories and legends around the world.  If you like being creeped out, listen before bed. If you don’t…don’t.  And here’s a fun bonus writing exercise: After listening to the tale in the 3rd person, try writing a short-short story in 1st person from the POV of a character living through one of these little nightmares. Go ahead and be a little crazy if you feel so inspired, taking on the point of view of the werewolf, murderous child, or disturbed elderly woman choking someone to death.

Cheers!

‘Earth Magic’ Magic: More Inspiration from the Divine

As I did with Bibliophilia, for today’s post, I sought inspiration from the cards, one for each genre.  This time, I went to an actual oracle deck, Earth Magic:

Earth Magic Cover

These cards are accompanied by a guidebook, so I excerpted some of the card’s advice as well.  Use the cards and/or their messages as encouragement, advice, writing prompts, or whatever else seems to fit.

Okay, here we go!
Continue reading