Monthly Archives: March 2016

printing ticket, please wait

Today you are as old as you ever have been and as young as you ever will be.

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 11.47.34 AM

Today’s Morning Pages prompt in CO301D is about waiting, about “the big wait,” to be precise. What are you waiting for? Wait up. Wait a minute. Please wait. I could go on, but I’ll just say that when I entered the word “wait” on Google images to make the image to the left of today’s Morning Pages prompt, I found more phrases than would fit. I bet you want to see the prompt. Have you read it yet? Okay, I’ll wait.

(Ahem.)

A little over a year ago, much to my mother’s chagrin, I got a tattoo on my left wrist that says no(w)here. I talk with my hands a lot, so it’s always fun to see people’s heads twist slightly mid-conversation in an attempt to read it. I inscribed it on my body as a dual reminder to be “now here” if I feel myself drifting away from the present, or “nowhere” if I need to let myself retreat from my work obsession and just be. At the top left of the tattoo, you can also see a drop of water leading into the script. It likewise symbolizes my dual needs for impact and serenity.

The tension between now here and nowhere is one I’ll always struggle with, I guess, because life always seems to feel like the “big wait.” On a pretty regular basis, I find myself experiencing anxiety or regret over the fact that I’ve waited too long to ________ and have in the process missed my window to do said ______. The words in the blank vary on a regular basis–meet the proposal deadline, play the piano, eat the bread before it molds, be on time, go on the hike, send the birthday card, really listen, finish the article, make the call, pay the bill.

I just as often experience anxiety or yearning because “I can’t wait to ____.” Get paid, be on vacation, finish the manuscript, celebrate the big day,  reach my goal weight, hear the results. And when I was younger, I couldn’t wait to win a medal, get a dog, go to kindergarten, wear a bra, make the basketball team, turn thirteen or sixteen or twenty-one, get to college, meet Mr. Right (which I had done in 3rd grade, but just didn’t know it yet), graduate from college, be a mom, finish my thesis or dissertation or first book.

Increasingly, I’m realizing that words in the blanks may vary, but the blanks themselves never go away.

I need to look at my wrist more often. I need to be no(w)here. I don’t know when that will happen, but I do know

I can’t wait.

Advertisements

who’s your “you”?

One of novelist Rose Tremain’s rules for writing is this: Listen to the criticisms and preferences of your trusted ‘first readers.'” Today in CO301D, my students and I are thinking together about how writers gain the courage to share the work they really care about with others. Here’s how that has played out in my writing life.  

When I first started submitting my work to academic venues, I started reading professional publications from another, different perspective because I wanted to be a published academic writer, too. A big part of reading like a writer in this vein meant that I was “reading for pronouns.” The third-person pronoun “one” just sounded pretentious, so I was relieved to find that the trend even in the most research-y journals was that academic authors often used the word “I” (or “we” if they were co-authoring), and that depending on the journal, the second-person “you” was also an option.

That got me asking myself the question, then, “Who’s my ‘you’?”

Initially, writing for academic venues was pretty daunting to me (okay, it still it is sometimes. ((okay, often))). And it was especially so when I was working on my first book, The Book Club Companion.

Dang, I was actually daring to write a book. Little ole me.

Then little ole me got stuck. My reader(s)–please, god, let there be more than one–were a nameless, faceless mass of teachers who I hoped would find my ideas useful and adaptable for their own classes. Other than my fabulously supportive editor Jim Strickland, though, I wasn’t able to picture exactly what those teachers actually looked like.

Then, I hit upon a solution that helped me write my way through that thicket of the problem and, eventually, I had a book. (Dang. Little ole me.) I can’t remember if the solution was Jim’s advice or not. Probably, it was. The important thing to know is that it worked, and it still does.

I figured out who my “you” was. I was able to zoom in on that abstract mass of teachers and see one teacher’s face.

At that time, my “you” was Emily Richards-Moyer, a dedicated whip-smart English teacher and CSU Writing Project fellow who was actually trying book clubs out with her middle school students. We chatted often about what worked and what didn’t in re book clubs and also about writing and teacher research and the daily challenges of teaching and good wine and running and…well, you get the picture.

When Emily became my “you,” the act of writing got a little bit easier. In fact, some days, I even started the section I was working on with “Dear Emily,” and somehow, that got me started because I could imagine my writing as a kind of conversation.

To this day when I’m writing for venues inhabited by classroom teachers, Emily is often still my “you.” And when I’m writing for other venues like this blog, I call the face(s) of my would-be readers to mind and do the same. (Like right now,  I’m thinking of my CO301D students who are tapping away on their keyboards at this very minute. I’m also thinking of other thoughtful, whip-smart, dedicated educator-bloggers like Nicole Mirra, Bud Hunt, and Antero Garcia because my conversations with them, face-to-face or otherwise, always sharpen my thinking.)

Again, I’m not the only writer who’s hit upon this idea. John Steinbeck, for instance, advised:

Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one. – John Steinbeck

So if there’s anybody listening out there right now, tell me, as a writer, who’s your “you”?

 

 

 

how I shut up and get on with it

shut up

PHOTO CREDIT: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/hay-festival/9307464/Hay-Festival-2012-Helen-Simpson-Blimey-you-arent-half-sensitive.html

“The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying ‘Faire et se taire’ (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as ‘Shut up and get on with it.'”

 

For today’s Morning Pages prompt in CO301D, my students and are writing about how we follow fiction writer Helen Simpson’s preeminent rule for writing:

“The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying ‘Faire et se taire’ (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as ‘Shut up and get on with it.'” – Helen Simpson

Well, fortunately/unfortunately, she’s right. Some days it’s easier than others, and today to be honest, it’s kind of hard. (I say this even as I am writing this post). This morning as I was getting ready for work, I felt the familiar weight of panic and dread pressing down. As always, it’s accompanied by that voice inside my head that jeers, “So what do you have to say anyway?”

And it’s true that sometimes it feels as if the well has run dry. It’s usually after I finish a big project or when I have another non-writing related deadline. These are far too common this time of year, and sometimes I just want to crawl under a table like I did when I was in 4th grade and read/write whatever it is I want in the shadows.

But then, I remember, “Oh yeah, I chose this life and this identity, so maybe I should just shut up and get on with it.” Here are some practices I’ve learned that help me do that (all of which I clearly need to remind myself of this morning):

  1. Make a list. Of possible projects, of reasons you don’t want to write today, of ailments and complaints and wishes and dreams. Anything to keep your fingers moving over the keyboard.
  2. Make a mantra. Put it some place where you’ll see it often. My mantra is runwritebreathe. I bought a cheap little leather bracelet at a theme park and had the letters RWB engraved on it. I like like a child when I wear it. And yet.
  3. Don’t break the chain (aka “The Seinfeld Strategy”). I found a very, very rudimentary digital version of this strategy that holds me accountable to myself. It’s an app called Write Chain. You enter your daily word goal. You decide what realistically constitutes a chain for you (e.g., Do you get a day off each week without breaking the chain?). You enter the words you actually wrote that day. Then you are congratulated for not breaking the chain and you learn how many links you’ve accumulated. And, look, sometimes life gets in the way. Instead of beating yourself up about it, just pick up another link and get going.
  4. Set a timer. Ten minutes usually does the trick for me, as it did just now. Time’s up, and whether I said anything profound or not in that, turns out I did write. I did have something to say. I just shut up and got on with it. And more often than not, I find that I want to keep writing.