Completion of a Chapbook in a Mad Messy Dash: It’s Cold Outside, but I Have Coffee, a Lap Blanket, Fuzzy Socks, and Internet

By 5 a.m. it was confirmed that outdoor activities, such as driving to work, were out of the question for me. I sulked for about five minutes, then poured coffee and got on with completing the latest editing of Ramshackle Houses & Southern Parables to send back into the world.

Since embracing the fact that I want to be a writer (a poet, an essayist, a novelist …) I’ve devoured everything at hand written by writers about writing. And still, deliberately organized process fascinates me. Eludes me. Stumps me. While editing my pet project (again) this morning, and indulging in way too much coffee, I got distracted by the realization that I’m a mess. I approach writing the same way I approach everything else—swinging on the latest mood swing.

Elizabeth Gilbert and Natalie Goldberg, to name two of my favorites, aren’t really as strict as some others concerning the methods followed in completing a project. However, they both describe a certain dedication, a recognition of the necessity for daily work. Butt in the seat, regularly. That’s how they both say insight, inspiration, and good work finds them—when their butts are in the seat, and pens are in their hands. Many other writers go into great detail about putting together the project with the help of outlines, plotting out the format long before sitting down to tackle actually filling in the pages.

Their dedication to work structure and method are astounding. I can’t get a handle on it. I’m jealous. Similarly, I have several relatives and friends who insist on cleaning their kitchens immediately after dinner, and making their beds every single morning before leaving for work. They do it automatically years after embracing it’s the thing to do, the thing that makes the rest of their day go smoothly. I remain puzzled by the faithful frequency of these accomplishments. I’ve tried, promise. I’ve even written out schedules and set reminders on my phone. Pfft.

Truth is, I crave structure. I recognize that it would greatly improve my life. But.

Ramshackle  was my very first finished project. I decided I wanted to be a writer in 2009, the original version of this poetry collection was submitted to a contest in 2015. Total honesty? The only reason that collection got completed and submitted was because I got laid off from work and new I’d be unemployed for several months, so I had a talk with myself and said get over yourself, set a schedule, get it done in thirty days. And I did. The collection was shortlisted for a book award two months later.

It was a desperate situation. I got the work done, then rested on my laurels for two years before trying to send it out again. Another desperate situation arose. This time, a panic attack after realizing I’m an idiot. Back in 2015, with at least eight hours a day free to work on nothing but the poetry, was the first and last glint of structure I’ve experienced. I showered, walked the dog, ate breakfast, and put my butt in the seat every day by 8 a.m. Three weeks in, I looked like a demented hoarder half buried in printer paper and cigarette ashes. The structure kind of got set fire to by the last days of that month, and I was nutcase.

That version was fifty pages. The second, forty-eight, with a new title. The third is down to thirty pages. Between the 2017 and 2018 versions, I’ve spent seven months just THINKING about the changes. Refusing to allow myself to pen anything to paper. When not thinking it out, I would read pieces aloud to see which flowed into the next, and would mentally cut what didn’t work. I set myself a deadline for January 15th, and HEY! one of the mags I had in mind sent out notice their deadline was extended until the 16th. (I’m thinking that snow day turned out to be just for me.)

Anyway. Once I sat down with my coffee this morning, first thing apparent was two bad decisions during my thinking time. Over the weekend I’d typed out the table of contents and sipping my first cup of coffee I could clearly see three pieces were all wrong. I made the changes, polished up the title page, and OMG I almost forgot to edit the table of contents! Imagine if I hadn’t noticed that before submitting. How embarrassing!

Five cups in, I had the chapbook completed, read through two more times, then raced over to Submittable. An hour later, I had three individual pieces in another document to send to another lit mag. All in all, I did about six hours work between Saturday and today. Maybe a record for me, if you don’t count the seven months of thinking.

Is that the worst process you’ve ever heard of or what?

Will I ever get better? More productive? Drink less coffee? I don’t know. Despite this being my quickest and possibly finest finished project (the single project that is my total life’s work thus far), it was stressful. Messy.

I have another chapbook in the works, fifteen poems that need to be twenty-five poems. Cento, actually. And I know I’m in trouble because I keep getting distracted from finishing it. The idea for this particular project has been stewing around my life for three years now. THREE YEARS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Writing Down The Bones: Listening to Natalie Goldberg Read Her First Book Has Been An Inspiration

Just shut up and write.

Goldberg’s simplification of what a writer must do is brilliant, and, embarrassing enough, quite necessary.  Writers! How ridiculous we can be, whining on and on about how difficult it is to find the time, to track down the muses, to hammer out a structure, to blah blah blah. Shut up already!

My favorite way to experience a book, as of late, is to hear the author read it. In this particular version found on Audible, Goldberg’s New York flavored accent is gorgeously calm—a result, no doubt, of decades of zen practice. The voice itself is enough, but couple it with the insight she shares and you’ve got near perfection. I wonder if she realized the possibilities at the outset of the reading project fourteen years after writing the book?

Throughout Writing Down the Bones Goldberg shares the sharp wisdom of her long-time zen teacher, Katagiri Roshi, along with her experiences as both a writing workshop leader and a writer. Regardless of just how terrific her own youthful wisdom seems, in response to an interview question at the end of the book she goes on to share what trouble there was with putting together all this information into book format.

There was everything in piles of notebooks, clear memories, a shining zen attitude, and she still couldn’t get it together without wrestling herself to the ground. It was reading another zen teacher’s book in which she finally found the desired, effective structure. Isn’t that something?

I listened to the bulk of the book with ear buds at work, slogging through data entry. The first stroke of inspiration came in the very first “session” in which Goldberg talks about her favorite way to write—she fills one notebook a month, using a favored ink pen. For the first time in a year, I went right out and bought myself nice pens and a notebook. That was December 30th, and I’ve written SOMETHING every single day since.

As it has happened before, my choices are all over the place. One day it’s a diary-like entry, another it’s a scene from one story I’ve struggled with, another is research on idiotic political current events, another it’s an off the cuff poem, and so on. Starting tomorrow, I’ll be listening to the book again, this time taking notes. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could actually blog about each bit of inspiration and share the results?

 

 

 

 

Read to Me — A Poem A Day — Day One

April Rain Song, by Langston Hughes

Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain.


Langston Hughes is definitely one of my favorites. Hughes was a distinctive voice of, and within, his own era, yes, but it his simplest works, the ones that reveal sweet, fleeting memories that first allowed me to hear that amazing voice of his.

Happy National Poetry Month! I intend to celebrate by posting A Poem A Day … twice! Once, for those published poets for whom I carry great love, and again, to indulge in a little writing of my own. “Today” is my first installment, and the image featured on that page was captured by the lovely and talented Sheila Creighton, my favorite photographer here on WordPress.

Yes, I am still working on the z-fic, and the t-fic. Even so, I intend to indulge in thirty days of poetry love.

What are y’all reading & writing?

So This Happened …

I’m working like mad on the z-fic and guess what? Another old story starts playing at full volume, demanding attention. At fist I thought, this is ridiculous. Shut up. I’m busy. Then I realized, who am I to argue? So, yesterday I completed a 6000+ word second draft — Part 1 of a story originally titled “The Reaping”.

The star of this story is Grace. Like my girl, Holly, Grace has a fairly specific skill set she must rely on to protect herself from mystical freaks. Unlike Holly, Grace is no warrior, so the Universe sees fit to provide her with one. His name is Gavin.

It’s obvious to me at this point that composing the prompt for Week Four at Brigit’s Flame subconsciously dug up Grace’s story, regardless of the fact that I had no intention to work on it until next month. I won’t be entering the reworked piece in the Just For Fun segment of the contest (since I’m the host), but I did decide to post Part 1 beneath the Fiction tab here on the website for my friends to read.

Working with Grace again has been fun. Here’s to hoping that deviating from my schedule won’t cause me serious delays on getting the collection completed.

What are y’all writing?

Day Eight Has Arrived

Finally.

Many days wrestling RL responsibilities into submission have passed and now I can get back to spending hours at the desk. All that was actually taken care of Friday, but I gave myself a “free” day to celebrate. I explored Downtown yesterday and succeeded in coloring in a mental map vital to this story.

It’s gorgeous Downtown, even beneath murky skies and naked trees.

Afterwards I dosed up my sore knee, ate a metric ton of Chinese food, and reclined in front of the TV to watch Serenity. Saturday was made of awesome.

And now I am ready to start over.

Yeah, you read that right. First person present is being tossed. It’s just too limited, and has the tendency to stiffen up. I felt for a long time after recognizing all the problems with first person that I couldn’t deviate from it, that somehow a different POV would bury the emotional impact of the protagonist. In the end though, I had to make the change. This story cannot be allowed to stiffen up.

So, now I have a title, a storyboard, 800 fresh words, and a lot of leftover Chinese food. Sunday is made of awesome, too.

What are y’all writing?

Tuesday Chatter by Darlinleo

When I was composing the topic post for Week Three, I wanted to ask that each of you examine past traumas, internal conflicts that have directly impacted your actions, or relationships that took you to the brink of … spiritual epiphany, years of devotional misanthropy, or your hard won definition of self-worth.

You lived to tell the tale, how will you tell it? Would you like to brainstorm with us today? Or, would you rather discuss your favorite authors that challenge the confines of category? 

Brigit's Flame Writing Community

Top o’ the mornin’, my darling Flamelings! Stories of What Worlds May Come await your reading, commenting, and voting. The poll closes tomorrow.

Meanwhile, #youshouldbewriting for Week Three! Competitive and Just For Fun entries for Live To Tell The Tale are due the 22nd.


We all know — regardless of what the rules might state — that creativity cannot be confined to tidy little categories. My dark little heart goes all aflutter when genre lines get crossed up. I love fictional stories told with the intimacy of memoir, the outlandish elements of Science Fiction presented matter-of-factly, and when poetry is stripped of metaphor and symbolism to reveal the blood and guts of living narrative.

When I was composing the topic post for Week Three, I referenced The Things They Carried because, in my opinion, Tim O’Brien tells one of the most compelling stories ever told. He does this by blending personal and political history, the elements of both…

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Status Interruptus

The past five days have involved everything but writing. While frustration overload threatened many times, a lot of good has come from Life stomping on the pause button without my permission.

Day Eight will happen. Eventually.

Meanwhile, I am toying with a few ideas that might help me organize and propel this story forward. A visual tool of some sort might be best… a storyboard, maybe. The more I think about employing such a tool, the more I like the idea. Especially after a particular breakthrough that came while on the phone with a friend Thursday night. Something she said made me realize that a huge hangup I have with the story is that I keep trying to justify Holly’s actions.

This is a ridiculous, time-consuming, wasteful, distracting endeavor. Her motivations and the end results don’t require justification — I just need to tell her story and get over my personal inclination to interject reasoning. If I do this storytelling thing right, her motivations should be clear enough to keep readers interested.

Day Seven

The Second Project’s z-fic now boasts an 8k word count… that would be better news if I hadn’t skipped working out a large chunk of Chapter Two. Chapter Two will be ridiculously long — this said by a person who is satisfied with a Prologue and Chapter One that, combined, total 5k and change.

Apparently I am compiling a collection of novella-length fictions, not short stories.

So far this morning I’ve just been reworking dialogue between Holly and Stephan. As I mentioned before, it’s necessary to keep a close eye, and ear, on Holly. My dangerous protag can cram more clichés in a paragraph than the worst of the best old hard boiled detectives. Ugh.

I can put one more daylight hour into writing today, after that, it’s a full day of real life adulting — paying bills, buying food, job hunting, making doctors’ appointments for MIL, etc. Another thousand words should be possible later tonight, then some research. There is a brand new shiny notebook just waiting for all that research.

What are y’all writing?

Day Six

The writing positively flowed yesterday. Which is good news. I was beginning to fear that this herky-jerky two hundred words per day was the best I could hope for until my head exploded and ended everything. Good news! I put about twelve hundred brand new words down and cleaned up dialogue from a previous session.

I love days like that, because when everything is flowing a new little tidbit of information usually pops out. In the initial episodic pieces of Holly’s story (written in 2009) I only gained a vague sense of her true nature. The writings were brief and rushed back then, and that vagueness was a delicious tease. Yesterday, late into one huge chunk of dialogue, her best friend revealed what I always wanted someone to say out loud — Holly is a born killer. Her best friend, Stephan, has known it for years. As far as he’s concerned, it’s one of her best qualities.

I like Stephan.

Stephan’s true nature was even more vague than Holly’s until yesterday. And though I learned a lot about him, his back story isn’t vital to the progression of the overall story, it won’t be discussed. That’s kind of a shame, really.