Thursday, January 29, 2009

Stress!!!

Well, I haven't been doing much writing recently. Right now, all of my time is being spent trying to get everything ready to travel to China. You wouldn't believe all of the stuff you need to do to get 2 adults and 1 kid ready to fly to China. Not to mention the 2 kids we're leaving at home with Grandparents and of course, the 12 yr old we're bringing home. Seriously, try figuring out what kind of underwear to buy for a 12 yr old Chinese girl you've never met, and you'll start to get the picture. Add to that, we still don't have an exact travel date so we can't make airline arrangements and it's stressing me out! I'm not exactly the picture of serene motherhood (not that I ever am.)

Maybe my next post will be all flowers and birdsong. Sonnets I've composed in honor of my new child, short stories full of the glory of motherhood.

Somehow, I doubt it...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

China News

Well, we finally got our Travel Approval (TA) from China! Looks like we'll be traveling some time in the next 3 weeks (that is, if we get our requested Consulate Appointement of 2/23.)

So, with my presentation on Structuralism (yuck!) on Monday and the general craziness of trying to prepare for a trip around the world, I probably won't be posting here much until we get back. But, if you want to follow along on our trip (either out of a burning desire to see international adoption up close and personal, or just nosiness - doesn't matter) feel free to pop over to my adoption blog. Just click on the link on the right titled, Little Knippers. There you'll find out how to navigate the Beijing airport with a five-year-old, and whether we actually survive bringing a twelve-year-old who doesn't speak English into our family. I guarantee you'll learn something, if nothing else, how much you appreciate your own life!

Friday, January 16, 2009

The most important writing tool

I've been thinking a lot about the things you need to be a writer. Some of them are common sense--you need to write, you need to loooove books, have a decent command of grammar and spelling, and typing skills won't hurt! Others aren't so obvious--perseverance, confidence in your ability, and determination. (Okay, I'm starting to sound like a commercial for the Army.)

Recently though, I've begun to think that the most important tool for a writer is hope. Not obvious, I know. But think about it. Writing is an act of hope. Hope that you will actually complete your story. Hope that it doesn't suck too bad. Hope that your writing will improve over time. Hope that an agent will request your full manuscript. And hope that you will eventually capture (and hold) the attention of the publishing gods.

As writers, we endure a lot of rejection. From those we love, who don't understand this obsession with words and stories. From our peers who often think they can do it better (even if they don't say it!) From the entire publishing industry. Without hope, why would we even bother? Why sit down and pour out that wonderful story that's been brewing in your mind. Why work for a year, or more, on something that may or may not ever be accepted for publication? Love, of course, is one reason. I believe we are writers because we love stories. They have touched us in some way, and we want to share that with others. But sometimes, even love isn't enough to keep you going. That's where hope enters.

Without hope would you really keep working? Keep sending your manuscripts out even when you have a drawer-full of rejections? I don't think so. Without hope, we would give up.

Remember Pandora? Zeus gave her a box and instructed her not to open it. Of course she did, and when the box was opened, all of the evils that were previously unknown were released on the world. However, at the bottom of the box was hope. One tiny reason to keep going. One small thing to fight against the ills of the world. But it was enough, and it's enough for us too.

Find your hope. Push on, even when you feel like Don Quixote, tilting at windmills. Who knows, maybe one day, you'll win.

I hope you do.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Submissions and school

So, I promised to post when I got a response to my short story submissions. Yesterday I got a form email rejection from Virginia Quarterly. Disappointing, yes. I sulked for a while (okay, all night), but today submitted another story "The Fifth Mary" to The Kenyon Review, and sent "Modeling Life" out to American Short Fiction and AGNI. We'll see how it goes & I'll post the results here! One thing I will say for Virginia Quarterly is that they have a great response time. I think it's only been two weeks since I submitted my story. While I'm disappointed by the response, I have to say I'm glad not to have to wait for months to hear anything.

And I might have been a little hasty with my last post on the benefits of an MA program. With the impending adoption and the general craziness of life, I'm only taking one class. It's a theory class and I hate theory. The first class was Monday & already I have a presentation for the next class. It's on an article by John Carlos Rowe about Structure as defined as a literary term. Seemed easy when I signed up for it, but here's the first sentence:

"Structure" derives from the Latin structura, the substantive formed from the past participle structus, out of the verb struere, "to heap together, arrange," or as in the English cognate, to strew.

GAAHHH! It's fourteen pages of this. Have I mentioned I don't like theory? Sort of sucks the pleasure out of reading. But I shall overcome. I will "heap together" the best d#@n presentation on structure the class has ever seen. Or perhaps I'll arrange it, or maybe just strew some words on a page and stand blubbering in front of the class...

Monday, January 12, 2009

Writing programs?

I've been wanting to write this post for a while and since I'm starting back to school today, I figured why not now.

There's a lot of debate within the writing community about the usefulness of writing classes, MFA programs, etc. I have to start off by issuing the standard disclaimer: Everything I say here is based on what's worked for me. What works for you might (and probably should) be different.

Many, many moons ago, I graduated with a BA in English with an emphasis on Creative Writing. I always wanted to write, but I lacked the confidence to really give it a go. However, once a friend of mine started writing a novel, I thought why not. So I started writing seriously about a year after I graduated from college. That first novel, well, let's just say it's better off where it is. In a box on the top shelf of my closet.

Anyway, in spite of the complete terribleness of that first novel, I kept writing. I found a writer's group at my local library and attended faithfully. I even had some stuff published. Nothing big. Just small presses, an article in the local newspaper, and some adoption related articles.

I really felt like I needed to move my writing to the next level. Also, I needed a reason to put my writing first. My kids are 5, 4 & 4 and we're leaving for China in about a month to adopt a 12 year old who doesn't speak a word of English. Plus, I have Crohn's disease which rears its ugly head at the worst times. Add to that the therapy and general craziness of dealing with our daughter, Grace, who is autistic & developmentally delayed and the expectation from my employer that I actually work now and then, and something had to give. For the past several years that something was writing. If I let anything slide, it was writing. I kept figuring there would be time later. But the thing is, there wasn't. There was always something else to do, someone else needing my time.

So when the college I graduated from started an M.A. program in English, I talked it over with my husband and signed up. On the one hand, it has added to the craziness of my life. I still have my job. I still have all of the kids. And unfortunately, signing up for an M.A. program is not the cure for Crohn's. At first, it seemed like I just added more work to my already busy life. But it was work I enjoyed doing. I was with other people like me. People who get excited over libraries and understand the value of spending a Saturday afternoon at the bookstore. It fed my soul. Something I haven't done too long.

Also, it pushed me. One of the classes I took was an advanced fiction writing workshop. I had to write. A LOT. I wrote all the time. I revised all the time. And I came up with three short stories that I believe are very good. Of course, I have to give credit to my professor and the rest of the class. I lucked out and had an AMAZING professor and a GREAT group of students in class with me. The critiques I received helped me see flaws in my work that I hadn't noticed before. It made my work stronger.

I learned to cut out everything that wasn't absolutely essential to my life. T.V. went. Unfortunately, non-school related reading went. Cooking elaborate meals went. I cut all of the excess out of my life. And I accomplished A LOT. It even carried over into the holiday. I started my current WIP the week before school ended (not my best idea!) and I should be finished with the rough draft within the next 2-3 weeks.

I don't think I would have accomplished any of this without being in the M.A. program. Now it might not work for you. You might be amazingly disciplined, but I was not. This might not be the typical thing people expect to take away from a writing program, but it's exactly what I needed.

If you're considering going to school, just taking a class, or going back for a higher degree, my advice would be to figure out exactly why you're doing it. And then, if you think it's for you, give it a shot. It might be exactly what you needed.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Pull up, Pull up! We're in nose dive!!

AGGH!! I'm in the dreaded middle of the novel. I've slogged my way to 57,000 words and now feel like I'm churning out, well, mostly crap. I know, I know, it's a rough draft. I'll go back and fix it later. Still, I hate that feeling of knowing something's not as good as it could be and then letting it stay that way for a while.

Still, to write is to struggle. Struggle toward the end of the first draft. Struggle through the rewrites. Struggle to find an agent, publisher, etc.

Oh well, at least I'm still writing, and that's good to know. A few days ago, it was questionable. It seems like life has been a whirlwind of activity recently. The kids are back in school which is good & bad. Good = they are out of the house for a while! Bad = we're back into the three different school schedules for three different kids. Different buses, speech therapy appts. ect. Just this week I have 5 appointments for the kids. AGGH! No wonder I'm floundering.

Not to mention that we should be getting our travel approval for China any day now and we should leave sometime in the next few weeks. Don't know when. But soon. Of course, we don't have her room finished and it's not like she's a baby and won't know the difference. At 12, I'm pretty sure she'll notice that we've been using her room as a dumping ground for all of the laundry we haven't folded and put away.

So life is crazy, but I'm still writing. I've only missed 3 days in the past month and one of those was Christmas, so not too shabby. I just have to keep pushing myself forward because I really want to have that rough draft finished before we leave for China.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Submissions!

In attempting not to break my resolutions one day into the new year, I have submitted one of my short stories to three literary journals. "Modeling Life" is now in the hands of the editors at Missouri Review, Ploughshares, and Virginia Quarterly Review. I will send it to others as well, but these journals accepted online queries so I didn't have to drag the kids out to the post office. I am submitting to the journals that have the highest numbers of short stories in The Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Awards. I figure, why not shoot for the stars!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy Writing in the New Year!

Now that 2008 is over (and boy, am I glad it is!), I'm thinking about my writing resolutions for this year. Normally I don't believe in resolutions -- who needs the pressure? But this year, I've put together a general guideline to help keep my writing on track this year.

First, finish the rough draft of WIP. Since I made it to 50,000 words yesterday, I should hit this goal by the end of January.

Second, send out and find homes for my three current short stories.

And Third, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Polish that novel till it shines. In a perfect world, I'll finish this by the end of summer and then start looking for an agent. (That's when the real fun starts!)

With bringing Sarah home from China and the three other munchkins, that's probably all I can realistically hope to accomplish this year. Oh yeah, and finish four or five more grad courses so that I can graduate with my Master's in the Spring of 2010. That's all. Wanna bet whether I have any hair left by the time it's all finished?