21
Feb 17

Dear Universe: I Need Something Big

Dear Universe,

I know it’s been a hot minute since I asked for something via this ol’ blog, but I got another favor. I need something. Something big. And I don’t even know what it is.

Dear Universe: I Need Something Big

See, here’s the thing: I’m running on autopilot. Everything is going smoothly. I can’t see a speed bump or a pothole for miles. And that’s good, I think. Except, well. Last week I jokingly said to my office mate that every week is the worst week of my life. And joking about something is the first step to admitting that you have hella problems, right?

I’m not asking for a whole lot, dear Universe. I don’t wan’t to win the lottery or to find a bag of unmarked bills at the park when I’m walking my dog. (Let the record also show that I don’t not want those things. I’m just saying that it doesn’t have to be those things.) I don’t want anything fancy or expensive. I don’t want some life-changing news. I don’t want to make a big decision.

I kind of just want a sign. I don’t know what for though.

Sorry. I’m trying here, dear Universe. But that’s the thing about this time of year. It’s the third quarter of the school year, and the third thing out of four things is always the worst. Like when you run a mile on a track. It’s only four laps. The first lap you’re fine. Your fresh. Your lungs are full of air. The second lap is okay. You’re doing it. You still have some energy. The third lap sucks because you’ve already done this thing twice and OMG can I just be done now? And the fourth lap is great because you’re almost done.

I kind of just want a sign. I don't know what for though. Click To Tweet

That’s where I am right now — smack dab in the middle of OMG can I just be done now.

So here I am, feeling antsy and anxious. I don’t know why. It’s been a hot minute since something big has happened. I mean, I guess I did buy a car on Saturday, but that doesn’t feel like anything. And if you know me, dear Universe, you know that material possessions don’t mean a whole awful lot to me. I’m looking for something that’s the spiritual equivalent of a marching band tromping down Main Street and playing Seventy-Six Trombones.”

I want big things and little words scribbled in notebooks. I want stories that make me stay up until 5 AM because I absolutely have to read them. I want words pouring out of my head and onto the page like an avalanche. I want to not feel so empty. I want to have thoughts worth thinking again.

I guess what I’m saying here, dear Universe, is that I want a little inspiration. I want to want to do things again.

Help me out here, Universe. Remind me why I’m here.


15
Feb 17

How to Build a Writing Habit

One of those things about being a writer is that you have to be in the habit of writing. Oh, sure, it’s all well and good to say, “I’m a writer.” And then just rush off before anyone can ask you about what you do. It’s even better if you just belittle people who try to question your status as writer. (I had a crush on a guy who did that in undergrad.) I think a problem I’ve run into lately is the whole saying I’m a writer, and then, you know…not writing.

How to Build a Writing Habit

And, I get it. Like, for a while, all my friends on the Facebooks were posting links to hella inspirational blogs that reaffirmed that yes, we are writers. We should call ourselves writers. Even if we’re not published! You’re a mother-humpin’ writer. It was good. I appreciated it. Because, here’s the thing: For a really long time, I didn’t feel I could say that. I had a master’s degree in writing, but didn’t feel that I could call myself a writer.

Fast forward to the present.

I have worked as a writer for the majority of my professional life. I’ve ghostwritten. I’ve blogged. I’ve freelanced. I’ve tech written. (What’s the past tense of having at one point been a tech writer?) Currently, I literally teach writing. I have no issue with donning that fantastic writerly mantle.

But here’s where things get a bit squiffy.

I haven’t been writing a whole awful lot lately.

Gasp. Sacrilege!

I know.

If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you know that I struggle hard with the burnout. And you know, taking on too much stuff. And trying to balance life and work and side hustles and a relationship and just basically being a person. (I’ve really been bad at the being a person thing because I let so many friendships and everyday human tasks fall by the wayside.)

So, in 2016, I worked on getting my life right, in a manner of speaking. I started to slow down. I lessened my day job work load. I cut waaaaaaaay back on the writing I did for others. I started reading more. I didn’t force myself to do anything I didn’t want to do. I really leaned into self-care in a pathological way.

But here we are in February in this, the year of our lord 2017. And I do not have a daily writing habit. I really, really want one though. Which, naturally, means it’s time to work on it.

How to Build a Writing Habit

So, in the interest of letting the 10 11 people who regularly read my blog (a big welcome to my dad who just found out I had a blog!), I thought I would detail how I’m building a writing habit.

001: Journaling.
So, if you didn’t know, I start every single day by journaling. On the weekdays, this means I start writing around 5:40 AM, and get it out of the way before I start working out. On weekends, it’s a little nicer because I get to journal with my coffee as I snuggle with the dog on the couch. Journaling is great because I get to throw my brain down on the page. I’m sure years from now I’ll look at the pages I’ve journaled and wonder what the hell was wrong with me. They don’t say anything special. Mostly it’s to do lists, things I wish would change, or things that happened or will be happening. But the key is that I get the weird parts of my brain out of my head first thing so that later, I’m better able to write. And my anxiety has really gone down since I’ve started this whole process, probably because I can write down a worry, and then completely forget it.

How to Build a Writing Habit Click To Tweet

002: Reading more.
I’ve been tracking my reading in my bullet journal, and it’s crazy how motivated it’s been making me to read. I haven’t fully broken up with Netflix or anything, but I’m making more time for reading because the more I read, the more I want to write. This is key for me. There’s nothing like a clever plot or a beautifully worded sentence that makes you want to write. Interestingly enough, there’s nothing like a garbage story to make you want to write, especially when you feel you could do what the author was trying to do better.

003: Literally scheduling it.
Every single day, I put a line in my bullet journal that says “write-1 hr.” Every. Single. Day. I could probably make a tracker and just track which days I write on, but honestly, I don’t pay attention to trackers. I need the list of things to do because there is nothing more satisfying than marking something off the to do list. So, by putting it on the list every day, I get the little mental reward of checking it off.

004: Making use of down time.
So, if I find myself in between classes or in my office hours and a single student hasn’t shown up, I may just open up a Word doc and write my little heart out. Lately, I haven’t been writing anything in particular, though I have some projects I’m in the middle of. I’m really just working on building the habit. So, if that means I just get about 3,000 words into various unrelated scenes, then so be it. Eventually, I’d like to focus on two manuscript projects that need to get done, but it’s like I said earlier. I’m out of the habit of making myself do things I don’t want to do. Until I get there, I’m content to just piddle around in a Word doc creating a big ol’ pile of nothing.

005: Creating a writing habit trigger.
I used to have a big ol’ electric kettle on my work desk, but not anymore. I brought that bad boy home so I could quickly and easily make some Moroccan mint tea in the afternoons when I get back from work. I start the kettle and change from my work clothes to a pair of yoga pants that are festooned with dog hair. I let the dog out, and put a weird pineapple-patterned headband on my head to keep my bangs out of my eyes as I write. By the time that’s all done, the water is nice and hot, and I brew my tea. Then, once the tea is done, it’s time for me to go into my office and make words come out of my brain and into the computer. For me, the tea is the trigger. Once the tea is done, it’s writing time.

It should be noted here that the tea is also a habit trigger for the dog. Once my tea is done, she’s knows it’s time to sleep in the reading chair in my office.

How did you build your writing habit? Click To Tweet

These are the things I’m doing to build a writing habit. So far, so good.  What about you writer’s out there? How did you build your writing habit?


07
Feb 17

Hard Work Is Not Overwork

hard work is not overwork

There is no time when I contemplate the difference between hard work and overwork more than the beginning of the semester. January marks the start of the spring semester, which is almost always a marathon of tiny, seemingly insignificant tasks. But if you don’t do one of them, the weird little house of cards that is your syllabus all falls apart. Basically, you can rant and rave all you want in your syllabus, but if you don’t have the infrastructure to back it up, you’re in for a world of disorganized, last-minute hurt when it comes to enforcing policies.

For that reason, I have typically had some pretty lax policies as an instructor. For example: I didn’t have an attendance policy for the longest time, because that means then that I not only had to take attendance EVERY CLASS, but I also have to record the attendance in the online course software so that students can see that you’ve recorded them absent, and that they may be penalized for it. This means that you have to set up the online course up front to show absences, which can take some doing because software designers LITERALLY NEVER ASK ME WHAT I NEED, and thus don’t account for the need to record attendance.

Well, this semester I changed my tune. In addition to feeling like I finally have a handle on the work load, I also have a grad assistant (GA) who can help. And while my GA is an incredibly intelligent and highly capable individual, I have nothing but menial tasks for her. So, in addition to having her record my attendance in the online system, she’ll be digitizing old documents and checking APA style formatting on student papers.

The main reason I didn’t take attendance or have all my old documents already digitized is largely because there are only so many hours in a day. And neither of these things are necessary. Sure, taking attendance is good, but at the end of the day, all my students are paying thousands of dollars to sit in my class, and it’s their own fault if they don’t show up. Similarly, the hard copies of old papers are sitting pretty in a filing cabinet, and will be until they are scanned. They aren’t taking up space that I want to use for something else. They’re just there until they can go elsewhere.

And I have been pretty laissez-faire about these things because my entire work ethic revolves around the notion that there is a wide chasm between hard work and overwork; the former is gratifying and life-affirming, while the latter tends to feel like some bully is rubbing a cheese grater against your soul.

I openly seek out hard work and expect it of myself every single day. After the job from hell, I would rather gargle broken glass than let overwork into my day. I know I need down time to use as I please. So if I find myself devoting time to overwork that I should be devoting to recharging, I fix it.

The thing is though, that so many people never realize the difference between the two. In fact, I would argue that there is some sort of fallacy machine that pumps terrible notions into American public schools. It makes kids think that having too much to do is the same as doing hard things. And certainly, having an insurmountable amount of work to do can feel really hard. And it can be hard to complete. But it’s important to remember that hard doesn’t mean too much, even if too much is hard.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is this: We should devote our time to tasks that absolutely have to get done and that are worth doing. We need to do that cost-benefit analysis to determine if a task is actually worth our time, or if it’s just something menial that will wear us down and make it harder for us to actually do the things we need to do. We will always have more items on our to do lists than we have room for on paper. Picking the ones that matter is what actually counts.

It’s hard enough to get done what needs to be done. That’s the hard work of it. If you find yourself doing things for the sake of doing them, or so you can choose to be busy, take a step back. Remind yourself that you just need to do the hard work, because the overwork, like a lot of the little things on your to do list, can wait.


22
Jul 14

10 people you meet in creative writing class

I’ve been thinking a lot about creative writing classes lately. Some of my favorite classes in college were the creative writing workshops. Whether it was in a fiction or poetry class, it was always interesting to write something and see how it plays in the minds of readers. Some of my classmates would give me great critiques–in some cases more helpful than the professor’s. And some of my classmates would write something so amazing that I couldn’t believe I was in the same class.

typewriter

As I took more and more workshop-style classes, I started to notice a pattern. There were always certain personality types in the class, without fail. And so it is with great pleasure that I bring you the 10 people you meet in creative writing class.

1. Person in it for therapy

Art can be therapeutic, but that doesn’t mean the whole class wants to watch you go through the stages of grieving or emotional catharsis every class. And even though all the kids in class will get to know you through your writing, it’s always weird to read about super personal things that you just had to get out during workshop. Also, no one likes your emo poetry. No one.

That being said, it’s always nearly impossible for you to give this person a negative critique because you really want them to get over the tough time they’re going through.

2. The clueless blowhard

Critiques are for people who don’t know what they’re doing. Seriously. Why would this person even need to take your advice when you clearly didn’t understand what they were trying to convey at all? They will not change that poorly written scene with the crows descending upon the city, or take out all the references to Doors lyrics. There has never been a more self-assured writer, nor has there ever been someone who deserved less to be self-assured.

3. Pretentious asshole

“I’m not sure what you were trying to do there, but it doesn’t look like you achieved it. Let me focus on this one element that I noticed, and then harp on it for a good, long time. Then, I’ll have to lecture on something that I’m going to pretend is way more esoteric than it actually is. You’ll think me. I’m really nice to spend so much time educating you.” -every critique this asshole gives you during workshop

4. Teacher’s pet

Every critique this person gives during workshop will closely resemble those of the professor. Also, they read EVERYTHING the teacher references, and occasionally bring up the published works of the professor during class discussion. This person is incapable of writing anything without the approval of the professor, which is why they have a really hard time doing any writing after graduation.

5. Druggie

Even if you’ve never done drugs, you will sincerely enjoy this kid’s psilocybin-induced poetry. It’s like The Jabberwocky, only with way more Taco Bell references.

6. The artist

I guess having your soul tortured by the art that dwells within is hard. That’s why this kid is so weird and incapable of communicating any ideas they have with the class in a way that is recognizable as human. But don’t worry. This person just exists on another plane. That’s why they will never turn in anything on time, if at all. And any critique you get from this person will be indecipherable.

7. Commercial fiction entrepreneur

You know that overachiever in the class that does really well? Well, this person is an overachiever, but they never achieve teacher’s pet status. Your professor will quickly tire of hearing the anecdotes they have about writing those past 12 NaNoWriMo novels, as well as all about how they made $13 last month on Amazon with their YA septuplogy. Everything they submit for workshop is basically Twilight, but sub vampires for the paranormal creature du jour. You like this person, but you hate everything they write.

8. Your new best friend

Every once in a while, you get lucky and you find a person in your creative writing class that is not only a good writer, but has a style and tone that you really respect. Unlike the teacher’s pets or robot parrots, they never get hung up on little elements that don’t 100% follow the rules of grammar. Instead, they see your writing for what it is, and they enjoy it as well as your company. And if you get really lucky, you’ll enjoy the same type of alcoholic beverages.

Start a writing critique group with this person immediately.

9. The easy A

“I thought creative writing was supposed to be easy? I’m just here for the A, man. I can’t let my GPA drop anymore or I’m getting kicked out. What do you mean, my piece that is just a bunch of text messages I copied and pasted into a Word Doc doesn’t count as a story?”

This argument with the professor will happen about 75% of the way through the semester, and it will be supremely uncomfortable for the rest of the class. But, after having to read the crap this person turned in, you’ll be really glad this person doesn’t get the grade that you actually worked for.

10. The pervert

No one wants to read about someone having sex with a pig. No one. This goes double for your Lolita-wannabe short stories. Actually read Lolita and tell me it’s sexy and not creepy. If you can, you should probably go ahead and register as a sex offender.