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A NaNo Rebel

I am participating in NaNoWriMo this year, but not as a novelist–I am what they call a NaNo Rebel. Someone who is breaking the rules. In this case, someone who is writing short stories rather than a novel; because I need to finish a draft of this dang thesis by sometime in December, and I’m about 60 pages away from the minimum.

 

My problem is that I have several short stories in the works–three or four or five–and haven’t been able to settle down to finish any one of them. I’ve moved between them in a shiftless sort of way, dropping one for another whenever I got stuck, and not making much progress on any of them.

 

And I’ve been discouraged. About the amount of writing I’m getting done, and about its overall quality. It’s a vicious sort of cycle, feeling discouraged because you’re not getting anything done, and not getting anything done because you’re feeling discouraged.

 

Well, NaNo has a way of kicking writers in the butt, and I guess that’s what I need.

 

The story I’m determined to finish first is mostly there. I have most of the pieces–fragments of scenes half- or three-quarters finished–and the general shape of the story, but now I’m figuring out how exactly they all fit together. Which is slow work. Not exactly NaNo-paced, but there you go.

 

And here I go.

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What with summer courses and now weddings (well, mostly one wedding), I haven’t been writing much. A little, yes, and I have a half-finished post about that typed up somewhere.

But that post has been eclipsed by some wonderful news: I am to be published!

This is the first story I’ve had accepted since college, and I am, needless to say, pretty thrilled. The literary journal is called Dappled Things, and I highly recommend them. Their poetry, especially, blows me away with each issue. (They’ve rejected several of my poor poems, though they accepted one of my talented cousin’s works.)

 

The journal is named for Gerard Manley Hopkin’s poem “Pied Beauty,” and the editors describe the relationship of this poem to their journal much better than I can. But I am both humbled and excited to be published here, since this journal is one dear to my heart.

 

Of equal awesomeness in this whole matter is the fact that because this is my first publication since my undergrad days, and since it will be printed after my wedding … I can publish it under my married name without any worries about inconsistency. So whatever happens with my writing in the future will happen under the name of “Rosemary Callenberg.”

 

Now that I have shared my news, we may return to our regularly scheduled blogging indolence.

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I’ve been posting much more often over here these past few weeks, and I think that reflects my general state of being. I am very busy with teaching and being a student and writing, but it isn’t what occupies my mind for the time being.

I feel this sharp juxtaposition right now between “grad school” and “real life.” I guess because I’m getting married, planning for the future, dealing with the stuff of adulthood. (Because really, grad school doesn’t completely require you to be an adult, although it helps.) That juxtaposition is part truth and part illusion, because life is whatever and wherever you’re living in a moment, not some abstract concept. And yet when it comes to where I imagine myself being, and who I imagine myself to be, this MFA program is transient. Important, desired, but over in another year. I’m not entirely certain what lies on the other end of that year, but I’m eager to find out.

Committing regular time for writing has been difficult. Partly because of this blasted business, but also because my attention has been focused on other things. I find that writing requires a balance of stillness and activity. Too much of one leads to stagnation, too much of the other doesn’t allow one(/me) that interior quiet that’s necessary for creation.

If good writing captures the spark of life, it seems to me that it’s necessary for the writer to life a full life (which isn’t the same thing as a busy one). But when life is exceptionally full, I often find myself drawn away from writing, or simply forgetful. (Except there is always that guilt gnawing away at the corners of my mind, asking me how I can call myself a writer, which will only be silenced by writing, and writing, and writing well.)

I’ve no conclusion to this train of thought.

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Sparks that fly and disappear

At some point while grading the past essay I crossed the threshold into “sleepy,” so even though I have lots of work to do by Monday (and not much Saturday to work with this weekend), I am calling it quits for today and going to bed.

In the meantime: I was cleaning some document shortcuts off my desktop, including some assignments various students had emailed me, and I found this, under the title “ending”:

At the end (or very near it) she drops the book and runs. We see the look of realization on her face, the swing of her arms as she races to catch up with him before it’s too late. The wind blows the pages and leaves scuttle past.

Who is she? What book has she dropped? What, exactly, is she realizing?

I have absolutely, positively no clue.

The fact is I may not have had a clue when I typed this. I get little flashes and think, “Oooh, shiny, must write it down so I can do something with it someday.” And they don’t necessarily have stories formed behind them yet, or else I would have more extensive notes behind them.

But they usually have some emotion behind them, and what frustrates me is that I don’t know what the emotion here is, whether it’s a happy or sad ending. Which means, much as this fragment intrigues me, that intrigue is only a source of frustration, because the spark itself is missing.

(What’s interesting, too, is that it’s more cinematic than anything, isn’t it?)

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“How do you tell a story when you don’t have the facts, but the story’s complete inside you?”

That’s Ben Okri talking about his book Starlighter, which I’ve never read. I recently finished another novel of his, The Famished Road, which I’ll admit felt like far too many words to support the story they carried; but after I finished it and started writing about it for class, I realized that it’s pretty amazing. Everything–the characters, the forward motion, the feeling of the world the book creates–accumulates as you read. In many ways the movement of the novel is more cyclical than linear, but each time something comes back it is intensified, and has subtly shifted. By the end the changes and emotion of the book left me breathless. It’s one of those books I’m very grateful someone made me read.

That’s not a review, and I’m too lazy to make it one; I’m basically procrastinating right now, anyways. Because open in a word document is one of those stories that is complete inside of me, that even has some facts to it (maybe too many), but I’m trying to figure out how on earth to tell it. It is a story of accumulation–the emotional accumulation of some things I’ve seen and some others I’ve been told–not to mention the pressure of all sorts of other things and stories that don’t directly affect the one I’m writing, but still exist in a network with it, inside of its reality.

But the accumulation in my head, while emotionally precise, has no plot, no shape except a personality.

So what does this story look like expressed on the page? Where does the movement come from? What facts are needed, what facts will just clog it up, and how do I navigate that?

It’s what I’m trying to figure out this weekend.

It’s what the deadline asks of me. (That’s March 28.)

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… I’ve been submitting stories. To a contest and a literary magazine most recently; planning on sending another thing out in the next week or so.

I feel like a writer. Woohoo!

It’s been a bit too long since I last submitted anything, honestly; same as it’s been too long since I posted on this blog. One always intends to do that sort of thing over Spring Break, but then things happen. Like surprise bridal showers and apartment hunting. (Other things don’t happen as much, like homework.)

To be honest, it’s when all that Real Life stuff starts taking over that I stop and wonder, why the heck am I still in school, again?

And then, gradually, I remember Reasons. To be part of a writing community; to better myself as a writer and an individual; and, of course, to write.

And I certainly know there are many aspects of academia that I’ll miss sorely once I’m finished. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past two years, it’s that I have absolutely no desire for an academic lifestyle on a long term basis. And there’s always a part of me that’s chomping at the bit, waiting to be finished.

I guess it’s pretty lucky time doesn’t listen to my whims.

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With Open Arms

New Year’s Day is as good a time as any to return to the old blog, isn’t it?

Not that any of my resolutions have to do with blogging. I was tempted, but no. I blog best when a subject bubbles over into words–although it does require a commitment from me to overcome laziness and stir the pot, tend it before everything evaporates. (Oh my word. Too many weird metaphors … obviously I haven’t been writing enough lately.) Although, if I can blog more regularly, among other things, I may just reward myself with a domain.

I did make some resolutions, however. Here they are:

  • 1. Write 15 hours a week.
    2. Read more poetry.
    3. Pray the rosary regularly.
    4. Don’t stress about getting things done.
  • The best goal is #2. Straightforward and non-guilt-inducing. The first is … necessary. But I’m going to allow myself a little flexibility there. Maybe I’ll write 10 hours some weeks, and there will be weeks I write much, much less. But it’s about cultivating a habit. Which is, ultimately, why I came to grad school. So.

    The fourth will be the hardest. Nice and abstract. But there you go.

    And the third is easiest in its specificity, if not in practice. It is also the most needed.

    This is going to be a busy, busy year. Wedding preparations, a manuscript due in the fall (are you serious….?!).

    But I welcome it with open arms.

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