Typing Away

It’s been over a month since my last post. So, what have I been doing with myself? A lot of reading for one. I reread Writing as a Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo. I also read Alice Sebold’s Lucky, Dorothy Allison’s Two or Three Things I Know for Sure and I am in the process of reading DeSalvo’s memoir Vertigo. None of these works are on my comprehensive exam list, but they have been instrumental in helping me start my memoir. I’m in weekly therapy sessions, working through The Courage to Heal, and tutoring a group of students taking a memoir class at Kirkland Correctional Institution.

It’s been a struggle. So many ugly things from my past have come up and now that I am not using compulsive overeating as a way to deal with them, I have to sit with the related feelings. The good news is I am writing. I am using my typewriter again as I find I am less distracted than on the computer. It is also easier to read than my handwriting. Thus far, I have forty pages I have converted into a manuscript on MS Word. I still have a pile of both handwritten and typewritten pages plus pages of old writing I want to sort through and include some of. I also find the typewriter helpful as I can stop mid-thought and come back and add a word or two at any point. I just leave the sheet of paper in my typewriter. This is easier than having to boot my computer and open up the document. Besides, just turning on the computer usually leads me down a rabbit trail of cute animal pictures, feeds, and interesting YouTube videos. Something about the noise of the typewriter helps me focus too.

So that’s where I am at. Still depressed but working and that makes all the difference in the world. Happy writing.

Trauma and the Body

I’ve spent the last few weeks unable to work on my memoir. There have been several false starts but nothing substantial. I’m in therapy so I’ve been discussing the writing process a good bit. I realized that part of my fear is upsetting others (family members etc). I’m afraid of being successful because it means that people close to me will read my work and may get upset. Mind you, I work hard at being nonjudgmental and letting the facts, as I remember them, do the talking. I don’t focus on something someone else did as good/bad or right/wrong. It is simply stated as something that happened. So, instead of writing a work that will help me (and perhaps others) heal from trauma, I self-sabotage. I won’t let myself be successful. I often think of this a writer’s block but it is really me getting in my own way to varying degrees of consciousness.

Today I did a painting using my body as a brush. It was fun but also strange at the same time. As someone who has gone through sexual abuse, it was strange to see my flesh as something that could be used positively, as something that could create beauty. I’m also a big girl and have been made fun of or shamed throughout my life for it. To see my body as something that can create is strange. So much of trauma is invested in the body. It is why I use food to self-medicate (working on that). It is also why my body physically reacts to yelling (my therapist has called my reactions PTSD like). So much of what I went through is trapped in my body but also in the times I can’t remember. I’ve tried to protect myself.

It’s very scary and threatening to try and take away those protections. I’m working with a nutritionist on my eating and I am seeing a therapist and psychiatrist. The memoir I am using to try and take away the mental protections, to try and find out what else happened. The strange thing is that once I painted, I was able to write. The tie is so strong in the body that I needed that freedom of movement and thought to be able to move forward. Perhaps I will start painting regularly.

On the Inside

Yesterday was my first day tutoring at a local men’s correctional facility here in South Carolina. I wasn’t sure what to expect and, to be honest, I was nervous. Not of the people so much but of the experience of going inside. It’s a strange feeling to be in a place you cannot easily get out of. Anyway, this particular group of men work with a local Christian college to earn an Associates degree. They are individuals who will never see the outside of the prison. I find it amazing and inspiring that the college sees the worth of these people and works to educate them. Once they finish their degrees, they can be placed in other facilities to be aids or provide ministerial support. There are two groups in the program and the one we met is taking a memoir writing class right now. I went in with a couple of colleagues and after we introduced ourselves, they went around the room and told us their names. I was surprised by the positive attitudes I encountered. Afterwards, several of them came up to us and wanted to ask questions about writing, to share an experience, or even have us read a short work they had written. It was amazing to see such commitment to writing and a desire to improve craft. I could take a lesson from them in that department as I’ve had a little trouble getting my memoir started this summer. I don’t have much else to say besides that it was such an uplifting experience for me. I’ll be back next week so I will keep you posted.

First year of MFA done!

I started working on this post about a week ago. I wanted it to be some sort of grand wrap-up with everything I’ve learned over the past year. What a pain in the ass that turned out to be. It was also an uninspiring prompt. Instead, I will post things as they come to me.

One of the greatest lessons this year is to find a writer friend who will talk about your work openly and honestly. I was preparing to present a piece for Graduate Student Day and was stuck. For about a week, I kept trying to rewrite it but it didn’t seem interesting to me anymore. It was a nonfiction story I wrote last fall and I just wasn’t happy with it anymore. Instead of continuing to agonize over it, I sent it to one of my friends. She is a nonfiction student in program and took the same course with me. She was also in the poetry class with me so she had a pretty good idea of my style/voice. Her response was that the work wasn’t in my voice and that I was missing the body (so much of my work is focused on bodies yet here was a piece on reproduction that totally ignored it). She was right and I needed that kind of honesty from someone familiar with my work.

The piece was originally two stories wove together. Then I had a very vivid dream that I realized was related (I dreamed I gave birth). When I wrote the dream down, it was powerful and compelling in a  way that the original piece wasn’t. Then I started writing other sections that were related. By the end, I ended up with a braided narrative with the dream as a recurring sequence. It was in my voice and I was proud of it.

I think that can be part of the danger of MFA programs (or writing classes in general). You start writing for the assignment and lose part of yourself. I have to remember to play and be flexible with my work. I lost my voice but then I found it again and it is stronger than ever. If you don’t have a peer to read your work, find one and make sure it is someone who will be honest with you. The worst feedback (and the most common) is “it’s good.” Find someone who can articulate why it’s good or where they got lost/disconnected.

I’m looking forward to getting some writing done this summer. Next semester I am taking a longer nonfiction class so I want to go into it with a clear idea of my thesis project. There’s a great book that’s been helping me with that. I’ll post about that in a couple of days. Happy writing!

Acceptance?

I just sent off a submission to Narrative Magazines’ Thirty Below Story Contest. The entry fee was $20. This is the first time I have ever paid for a submission. I don’t mind though as it is a contest with cash prizes. Entrants also get three months of backstage access to Narrative Magazine. Very cool. I really like that they include something extra. My last few submissions have resulted in rejections so here is hoping this one goes through.

So I’m glad I got that done. This past weekend was fall break and I planned to spend most of it writing. I didn’t. I finished a collage for my creative nonfiction class and revised a short lyric essay. That was it. Since Thursday I’ve been in a dark mood. I just don’t want to do anything. I’m tired and burned out. It seems that I always find myself feeling resistant at this point in the semester. I really wish I could get past it.

On a side note, the Writer’s Digest Yearbook is out. It is The Writer’s Digest Guide to Creativity this year. I haven’t read all of it but I did find a great article on creating mini-writing retreats. That’s when it hit me. I told my husband about the cubicles on the quiet floor of Cooper Library last week. I didn’t even think about using them myself. Sometime this week I will schedule a writing session there. Maybe a homework session too. Less distractions.

Thanks Natalie Goldberg

One of the books I return to over and over again for writing inspiration is Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. One reason I like it is that it is composed of short sections. I don’t have to sit and read for a long time. In fact, it is perfect for reading just before writing. Anyway, I picked it up about three days ago and the first section I came to was the part where she talks about filling one notebook a month as a writing goal. I went to Wal-mart and bought a couple of pretty spiral notebooks so I could get started. Luckily it was the 15th as I only like to start writing notebooks on the 1st or 15th of the month.

So far it has worked. It is hard sometimes to fill the required number of pages (works out to rough 4-5 pages a day). That just takes time and adjusting to the writing practice again. Most people have this romantic images of writers but it is actually hard work. Very hard work. The discipline is the hardest part. It is probably easier for those who have deadlines, which I don’t. Deadlines have always helped me get my but in gear. It is just hard when you have no one to hold you accountable.

Summer (Break) is Here!

Well, I survived finals. My last paper (on the use of literary allusions to Poe as a stepping stone to critiquing mass culture in Native Son) went better than I expected. I had to cut out a lot of what I wanted to include because I was limited to ten pages. I guess that is a sign that I am ready for grad school.

Anyway, I have been practicing my French translation for the exam I will need to pass at USC. That is good and all but I haven’t done any writing since the semester ended. I suppose it is time to get off of my keister and start. I would really like to treat it like a job this summer with set hours so I go into my MFA program as prepared as I can be. It is strange not having deadlines or assignments. Usually, I am so swamped with work and extracurricular obligations that I don’t have time to think about much else.

I am not sure if I should stay home and write or find somewhere nearby. It doesn’t help much that it has been cold, foggy, and rainy/snowy here. Weather like this just saps my energy. We’ll see. In the meantime, I have two new Julia Cameron books to look over: Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance and The Sound of Paper: Starting from Scratch. They have been on my wishlist for a while and when I saw them at $3.99 buy one get one free, I couldn’t resist. Actually, it was a bit of a shopping victory. Because I am a Borders Rewards Member, I got an extra 10% off of the book. I also bought a medium chai latte and a marshmallow square. I couldn’t use the 40% coupon on the books but they did take it off of my chai. Plus I get an extra 10% off of goods in the cafe. I also had $5 in Borders bucks so for two books, a medium chai, and a marshmallow square I paid $2.73.

I know, I get too excited over discounted books but hey I don’t buy a lot of clothes or shoes. I think most writers are fetishists when it comes to books and blank journals. That went a little off topic. So, my plan is to write every day this summer. Perhaps reinstituting my 1,000 words a day requirement will help.

Feeling like a Winner

I got an email today from the Gotham Writers’ Workshop. I won a copy of Memoir: A History by Ben Yagoda in their online sweepstakes. You just can’t go wrong with free books. By the way, you should check out Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York’s Acclaimed Creative Writing School. It is from the Gotham Writers’ Workshop. It was the textbook for my first creative writing class (fiction) and I am glad I kept it. The sections on point of view and theme are extremely helpful. You’ll find that a lot of the information pertains to creative nonfiction as well as fiction.

I am pleased to say that I have written every day in 2011 so far. Hmm…I just realized that it is 1/11/11. Interesting. Anyway, it has been going well. It is easier for me to be productive if I do my writing first thing in the morning, even with non-writing related activities. Once that burden has been lifted, I feel freer to pursue other things. I am still working on my paper on the trauma narrative. I also have two scholarship applications to complete along with the symposium proposal and I am collaborating on a paper on forms of resistance in the Jim Crow era. On top of that, school starts Tuesday. Yikes! Well, I don’t think it will be too bad. I cut down to four classes, three days a week. For me, that is a vacation. I really want to have the time to put into my classes (especially food writing) so I come out of it with publishable work. I also need to research journals for my paper on Zora Neale Hurston. Her birthday is this month and I was thrilled to see that The Writer had an article about her.

That is about it for today. I am going to get my research papers together from last semester and see what is potentially publishable.

Off to Denver

I am leaving for Denver in the morning. Sounds serious but it is only a two hour drive. It is for the LAS Scholar Award I won last semester. I will be doing some final research for the paper. Thanks to the amazing interlibrary loan program at UCCS, I don’t have a lot much more research to do. Nick and I booked a second night (which we got for a steal at $47) and are going to the King Tut exhibit at the Denver Art Museum.

My project on trauma narrative is going great. The only problem is I have so much great research material to work through. This could easily become a dissertation project. The scholarship requires 10-15 pages, no minimum for the symposium. I feel more comfortable at the 15-20 page range. I am learning so much about trauma and why I have turned to creative nonfiction. I have a whole bag of books to take with me to Denver. I’ll admit it, I am a bit of a workaholic. Just a little.

Anyway, we are now on day five of the New Year. So far, I have written everyday. The prompts are really helping. Three out of the five days I got usable material or story ideas using them. Now if I can just work in a little time on my memoir each day, I will be set. I feel better when I write every day. I don’t have it hanging over me and I am freer to pursue other writing projects throughout the day. Plus I am generating new material which keeps me from thinking I have nothing to write about. It is an irrational thought, one I think a lot of writes suffer under every now and again.

On a happy side note, Judy Reeves (author of A Writer’s Book of Days) found me on SheWrites.com. SheWrites is a great networking site for writers. I repost all of my blog posts there. Anyhow, she found my post about her book and left a wonderful comment. I am really digging social networking. Anyhow, I will be offline until I get back home on Sunday. Happy Writing!

You Are a Writer!

I braved the icy streets on Saturday to go to Borders. I know, we just had a blizzard in Colorado on Thursday but they had a 50% off coupon and the streets didn’t look that bad on the traffic cameras. Turns out, the roads were terrible. I knew the side streets would be. They only plow and drop gravel on the main roads in Colorado Springs. It has been that way for a couple of years now. Even today our street was still a mess.

Anyway, I picked up a copy of The Writer’s Notebook. It is a collection of craft essays based on the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop. I have looked at this book before and was tempted but did not buy it (even though the first essay is by Dorothy Allison, who is an amazing writer). That was two or three months ago. I was trying to decide between this book and The Forest for the Trees, which I hear is amazing. I was not sure but I knew I did not want to splurge and buy both (hey, I am a college student, what do you expect). Anyhow, I was flipping through The Writer’s Notebook when I noticed a small piece of paper tucked between the pages. It was a handwritten note on the back of a torn strip of paper. It said “You Are a Writer.” Are was underlined twice, writer once. If I could figure out how to underline I would. Needless to say, that is the book I bought. The note really made my day. Plus, when I got it home I discovered it came with a bonus CD featuring two panel discussions. I was so excited about the note that I did not even notice.

So, update on my resolutions: I wrote today and yesterday, a good start to developing my writing habit. It is funny, when I write for a short while in the morning, I feel lazy for not writing anything else during the day. Of course, this writing time is separate from research and revising time (as suggested in The Writer’s Portable Mentor). I started using A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves. It has daily prompts so I don’t have to think about what to write in the morning. I have the old version, apparently there is a 2010 revised edition with all new prompts. A lot of the other sections seem the same (I can only see so much in Amazon preview though) but it would be worth it for a new book of prompts.

Anyway, I made some headway on my trauma narrative conference proposal. I hope to finish it up tomorrow and send it off. Then I can get back to working on my fiction short and my two longer works. I’d really like to finish the short story before the semester begins. Hope your writing is going well too.

Oh, on a side note, I am thinking about taking intermediate fiction as a sixth class next semester. I really only need four courses in order to graduate but I want to make sure I have enough under my belt to feel confident in a teaching position in the fall. I also figure that most introductory creative writing students are going to write fiction, which I have less experience with. What do you think? Am I totally nuts?