Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Learning how to write, part two

When I wrote this Author Toolbox Blog Hop post back in January, I had just finished submitting the last of my graduate school applications. Once I got my sixth and final confirmation email that my application materials were received, I immediately thought that I would get flat rejections from all six programs. All of the doubts and worries about not getting in anywhere filled the vacuum that writing samples and personal statements had left behind. So I put together a learning plan to improve my skills and be in a better position to get accepted the second time around.

But then in March I got a call from my top choice school, Iowa State University, telling me I was accepted and also offered the Pearl Hogrefe Fellowship in Creative Writing. By that point, I had fallen behind on most parts of my plan, but I was still writing regularly. Fast forward to the past few weeks wrapping up loose ends with my job while also saying my goodbyes to New York City and the people in it. I’ve been barely writing at all because of how much I had to get done before moving.

Now, I’m in Ames, nervous and excited and ready as I’ll ever be for this new phase of my writing life.

There are countless articles, blogs, and pro/con lists about the MFA degree and whether or not it’s “worth it.” When I read through some of these things as I was making the decision to apply, the only thing I became certain of was that there’s no one true answer to the MFA question, no hard Yes or No. I had to decide the “worthiness” on my own, and eventually I decided that yes, I wanted to pursue this. For me, my reasons for applying boiled down to:

  • Wanting to throw myself into writing to see how far I could go with it; an MFA environment can give me the time, space, and support to experiment and learn.
  • Wanting to meet more writers like me, who were seeking that same time, space, and support to learn and grow.
  • Wanting to go back to school for a graduate degree; a fully-funded MFA program fit the bill.
  • Wanting a change of scenery; as much as I loved New York, it was getting a little overwhelming.
  • Wanting a way to transition from my current career path to something in publishing, whether as an author or editor; there are obviously many ways to do this, and an MFA program can be one of them.

Classes start next week, and so far (before I’ve even officially started the program) I feel confident that I’ll be fulfilling all of the wants I’ve listed above. Already I’ve met some of the members of my cohort, all of them friendly and fascinating, and Ames is definitely a change of scenery from New York. We’ll see in three years if my feeling is right.

Do you have a degree in creative writing? What do you think of creative writing programs in general?


This post was written as part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop organized by the human dynamo, Raimey Gallant. Every month, authors at all stages of their career blog about specific resources/learning opportunities for fellow writers. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, click here.

Header image from Pixabay.

Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Duotrope and the resume of failures

I regularly review my resume about once a month, not because I’m always actively looking for a job, but because it’s generally a good idea to keep it updated. My job responsibilities might have changed, or I might have some professional achievement that I want to put on there. And every time I do this review and update, I also think about the things that I want to put on there.

I want to have more publications to list, I want to add more soft and hard skills related to writing, I want more relevant experience to show how my professional life has developed and changed. And when I think about the things I want on my resume, I think about the work that I need to put in behind the scenes to get there.

Alongside the resume I regularly update, I have another document that gets a similar treatment that’s almost like my resume’s shadow. It’s my resume of failures, and it’s a concept I came across a few years ago from scientist Melanie Stefan, Ph.D1. The title is pretty self-explanatory: This is a document of my rejections, not just from literary magazines, but from other things like colleges, fellowships, and other things I’ve applied for and didn’t get. There’s the saying—”You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”—and this document shows me all of the shots I did take.

In general, it’s a good idea to keep track of submissions and the final decisions, if only for purely practical reasons. You want to make sure you’re not submitting multiple times to journals that don’t take multiple submissions, or making sure you’re not breaking guidelines around simultaneous submissions. For data and tracking like that, I rely on Duotrope2. Duotrope is a database of projects, publications, and even literary agents for writers and artists to submit work to. The site has a number of tools to track your writing and can also calculate stats like acceptance rate and turnaround time. A $5 monthly fee lets you create an account and access all of the resources available. To me, it’s worth it just to be able to keep track of submissions, though the calculations are also extremely useful.

However, although Duotrope is a powerful tool to help me keep track of my submissions, I still have this resume of failures. Because like my normal resume, I feel galvanized to try and add to it. It motivates me to take more shots, because even if I fail, those attempts still have a place to go. I turn a failure into a success, and that helps me continue writing and submitting.

What about you? Would you consider building a resume of failures? What helps you stay motivated in pursuing writing?


This post was written as part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop organized by the human dynamo, Raimey Gallant. Every month, authors at all stages of their career blog about specific resources/learning opportunities for fellow writers. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, click here.

Header image from Pixabay.

Notes

[1] A CV of failures, Melanie Stefan, Ph.D., Naturejobs.com

[2] Duotrope.com — from the site: “Duotrope is an established, award-winning resource for writers and artists. We help you save time finding publishers or agents for your work, so you can focus on creating. “

Author Toolbox Blog Hop: On youth and inexperience

There’s a particular piece of writing advice that got under my skin early on in my writing ‘career’:

Write what you know.

I have gone through stages of agreeing and disagreeing with this statement, but ultimately, the spirit of this tenet wins out. After all, readers will only read your book, will fall in love with your book, if there is an element of truth in it. Not necessarily Truth with a capital T, but truth in the sense that what you’ve written is convincing enough to pull them in and keep them in your book. And to be convincing you have to, in a sense, write what you know.

My early stories were all directly lifted from or in response to things that were going in my life. I wasn’t very creative; my main characters were author avatars, and the people around me and their actions served as inspiration for secondary characters and rough subplots.

I quickly became bored with writing these stories. Though I am of the belief that every experience, from the mundane to the singular, holds the potential for inspiring a new story, there are only so many stories you can write about making banana pancakes before your mind craves something new.

As a young and aspiring author, I’ve had a hard time accepting the idea that I should write what I know since, honestly, I don’t know much. After all, I’m only twenty-five. And I’m impatient. I don’t want to wait around until I have enough Life Experience Points in order to start writing, but neither do I want to burn myself out trying to gather up experiences like they’re Easter eggs and I have to find all of them before they start to rot and reek to high Heaven.

In my experience, an Easter egg hunt has never been fun. And an Easter egg hunt is not writing.

Instead, a much more useful piece of writing advice came when I took a Creative Writing class while studying abroad in Sydney during my junior year of college. The writer Nakkiah Lui visited our class, and during her talk she gave us a variation on the theme:

Write what scares you.

If you’ve written drama but have never written comedy, write comedy. If you’ve written romance but have never written horror, write horror. It even goes into different forms: if you’ve never written poetry, write poetry; if you’ve never written a play, write a play.

In addition to giving you more writing practice (something every writer needs), writing what scares you also allows you to expand your horizons, allows you to gain life experience even if you’ve never experienced these events yourself. By putting your best effort to produce good writing in areas outside of your expertise, you’ll gain Life Experience Points and get better at writing.

There are a million more ways I could break down the advice to write what scares you, but I’ll end this way:

As a young writer, I feel strange talking about writing and giving advice, even on this blog, an ostensibly personal space in a public arena. But in my limited experience, a healthy amount of fear is a good indication that I’m going in the direction of something worthwhile. It might not result in a publication, or even in a story that I can show to anyone while I’m alive, but it results in something, that will lead to something else, that will lead to something else, that will lead to something I can be proud of. But I never would have gotten there if I didn’t go in the direction of my fears.

So what’s a writing fear you’ve been working on conquering lately? Let me know in the comments!


This post was written as part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop organized by the human dynamo, Raimey Gallant. Every month, authors at all stages of their career blog about specific resources/learning opportunities for fellow writers. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, click here.

#weekendcoffeeshare: ‘Round my hometown

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you that it’s much too late in the day (er, night) to have caffeinated beverages. But then again, I’ve always been terrible at making good choices and managing my sleep schedule, so yes, I’ll take coffee anyway. The sleepless night and the compulsion to write something reminds me of my senior year in high school when I would do just this—drink coffee and stay up spinning tales. And lately, I’ve been thinking about my hometown.

There is a split in my life, a “Before” and “After”, but I’ve been thinking lately that I’ve been categorizing it incorrectly. It is not “Before Moving to New York” and “After Moving to New York”, but rather, “Before I Started Writing” and “After I started Writing”. Writing has always been part of my list of hobbies, but it wasn’t until I started journaling with some regularity during high school that my inner life really kicked off.

My best friend since middle school was in town this week, and she is the type of person I can pick up with right away. She has known me through my quietest moments, has seen me lose my cool, and is the type to correct my memory while dispensing with unnecessary niceties. The things I remember are either rose-tinted idylls or turbid voids, and not much else in between. She one of the few people I know who fills in the spectrum.

And I’ve been thinking about my hometown because of my friend, but also because I’ve been thinking about writing. Tomorrow I’ll be getting comments back from my writing class on a short story, and I’ve been nervous ever since I gave them the story. While I’m proud of that piece, it’s not as “mission statement”-y as I like. The story isn’t really representative of what I write about.

Ever since I figured out that this was the reason for my discomfort, I’ve been trying to describe, with as much precision as possible, what it is I write about. If the story I sent in isn’t it, then what is it? I used to think that not having a defined focus would allow me to explore all topics, would allow me to write anything and everything I want without fear of being boxed into a genre. I’m seeing now that there must be some underlying and narrow motivation. After all, I can’t major in “The Universe.”

I’m still figuring it out, though I can feel myself circling around something. My writing topic—the Major Dramatic Question that drives not just a particular story, but all of my creative work—is elusive, but lurking just out of the corner of my eye. Still, I feel like I’ll lock onto it soon, and then…well, we’ll see how it goes.

But I’m curious: What do you write about?


This post was created as part of #weekendcoffeeshare. Check out more posts in the hashtag.

Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Time, like mischief, should be managed

As a young/novice/aspiring author, I have a lot of other things on my plate that aren’t strictly writing-related. I work full-time at a job I really care about and want to do well in. I’m trying to get my stuff together to apply to grad school at the end of this year to start attending next fall. I have reading goals, and fitness goals, and savings goals. I’m in a long-term relationship. I’m trying to be a better friend.

A lot of young/novice/aspiring authors like me have the same or similar strains on their time.

So where does writing fit in? How are we expected to make progress in our careers if we have all of these other things we have to balance? And how are we supposed to get better at writing at all?

There are lots of books and methods and theories on time management, and it can take a long time to find the right one for you. What follows is a list of what I do to make time for writing and all the things surrounding it. Take what you need, and feel free to leave a comment on what you do to manage your time!

The way I manage my time is by establishing a routine.

One of my favorite things on the internet is an infographic1 showing the daily routines of famous creatives. While I don’t believe they followed these routines to the hour for every day of their adult life (or even when they were at their most prolific in their creative work), they probably followed these patterns to a close enough approximation.

Looking at these charts, many of these famous creatives had the benefit of long, uninterrupted time to work on their creative pursuits. After all, for many of them, it was their career. They were professional creative people. Young/novice/aspiring authors often don’t have that benefit, unless they have the resources to go to a writing retreat for an extended period of time or are in an MFA program. (And even in an MFA program, teaching and classes can quickly eat up time.)

But there are no excuses: A writer has to take (or make) the time to write.

There isn’t a magical formula. As you can see from these charts, these famous creatives had very different ways of living. Franz Kafka kept weird hours and did most of his creative work at night. Charles Dickens took long walks around London. Maya Angelou blocked off her afternoons and evenings with her husband. A decent number of these people had day jobs (and many of them did some kind of teaching).

But they all have a chart. They all have a basic outline for how a day would go and stuck to it.

Data gathering is an important step to putting together a routine that will work.

I had a Passion Planner2 for a while, and though it ultimately ended up not meshing well with my organization style, I did make use of the hour-by-hour breakdown for each day. It was useful to block off the time I had to spend at my full-time job, and then figure out how the rest of my goals fit in around it.

At the beginning of the week I would write in my expected time commitments for each day. Every time something changed, I changed it in my Passion Planner, but I would still keep what the original expectation was. Did I expect to work 10-6 but instead worked from 9:30 to 7? Did I take my lunch break at 1pm like I planned, or at 2 instead? Did I exercise that day? If I did, was it at the time I slotted for it?

After a few weeks of this, I was able to see some general patterns emerge. I can pretty reliably get up to work out in the morning, but if I’m not out the door by 5:30am then I’m probably not going to exercise that day. Most days I prefer taking my lunch at 1:30 or 2, and I’ll typically take a longer lunch break so that I can have a solid chunk of writing time. As a result, I’ll stay at the office a little bit longer. My commute is the longest part of my day, and also the most variable. Some days I’ll spend 20 minutes door-to-door, and other days the trains will be delayed and it’ll take me 40 minutes.

Once I figured out my natural inclinations, I was able to create a pretty solid routine that I could stick to.

But still, that initial routine I created a few months ago doesn’t actually apply anymore.

It’s important to build in flexibility and allow the routine to change.

My routine now looks something like this:

My routine
Light Blue = Sleep; Yellow = Leisure; Red = Creative Work; Green = Day Job/Administrative; Dark Blue = Exercise; Grey = Other

My exercise happens a bit later in the day now because I’m running with my boyfriend, who is definitely not a morning person. I’m still writing during my lunch break, but since the weather has been nicer I can write in one of the many outdoor seating areas around my office. I no longer have to walk to the Barnes & Noble several blocks away, so I don’t have to take quite as long of a break.

And I’m sure this schedule will change once again. It’s all a matter regularly reviewing what my expectations are for my time and examining what the reality is.

Time tracking can be a great motivator.

One thing I struggle with is actually taking the time to write and edit fiction. I write a lot, and fill in every crack and crevice of my day with writing, but a lot of that is journaling or planning, and not actually putting effort into fiction writing.

So I appealed to the data nerd aspect of my personality.

For several months I’ve been tracking my time with Gleeo Time Tracker3 on my phone. I started using a time tracker when I switched jobs last year and needed a way to keep track of how many hours I worked in a day. Because the tool itself is quite flexible, I decided to use it to keep track of my writing as well.

I created categories for the five kinds of writing I do: Journaling, Blogging, Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry. Then I broke these down into even simpler tasks, i.e. Planning, Editing, Writing.

From there it was a matter of being rigorous with actually tracking the time. I kept my phone screen on throughout my writing sessions and anytime I would switch tasks (from editing a short story to starting in on a new draft of a story, for example), I would switch my time tracker. I also have a category for administrative tasks, like submitting to journals, organizing the writing on my computer, and compiling my time charts themselves.

At the end of each month I plug the data into Google Sheets and make some charts:

Did I actually spend enough time writing and editing fiction? How does that compare to my other types of writing? And do I feel satisfied with the amount of work that I’ve put in?

What it ultimately comes down to is rigorously and honestly examining my writing life, and how it fits into the rest of life.

My system isn’t perfect yet. Hell, it’s hardly a system, really, and more an amalgam of time tracking, productivity, and data-gathering techniques I’ve learned over the (very short) years of my life. But every month I can answer, with solid evidence, two questions:

  1. Did I write?
  2. Was it enough?

And I solemnly swear that the answers go pretty far.


This post was written as part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop organized by the human dynamo, Raimey Gallant. Every month, authors at all stages of their career blog about specific resources/learning opportunities for fellow writers. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, click here.

Notes:

[1] The Daily Routines of Famous Creative People, https://podio.com/site/creative-routines
[2] Passion Planner, http://www.passionplanner.com/
[3] Gleeo Time Tracker, https://gleeo.com/index.php/en/

Header image from Pixabay.

Reblog from Raimey Gallant – Announcing new monthly blog hop for authors: #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Hi everyone,

Life has been busy, but I just wanted to take a quick moment to share this new blog hop hosted by the wonderful Raimey Gallant! I’ve added my name to the list, so I’ll be posting every month about tools and resources I’ve come across that are (hopefully) helping me along my (aspiring) author journey. I also urge you to regularly check in on this hop once it gets going and read the advice from the participants. I definitely will be, and I’m looking forward to learning a lot.

As a teaser: My first post will be about time management for aspiring authors, especially for those who are working full-time and trying to make headway on improving as a writer. Be on the lookout for that closer to the start of the hop on April 19th!

Ever yours,
Caroliena

Raimey Gallant

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2

For those who aren’t familiar with me, I created the 400-participant Nano Hop in 2016. We aren’t going to let this one-time-signup, monthly blog hop get quite so big. I think anywhere from 20 to 30 participants would be a great number for the first hop in April, and considering how many people I recruited for my last hop, 20 to 30 for a start won’t be a problem. You will get out of this hop what you put into it. Because of the way the rules are laid out, if you give 20 comments, you should expect close to that amount in return. If you’re hemming and hawing over whether to sign up, remember that those coveted top positions in the blog roll are first come first serve.

The Rules:
1. Theme:This is a monthly blog hop on the theme of resources/learning for authors: posts related to the…

View original post 870 more words