Every new writer’s fear: Reading to an empty room

I don’t know anyone who loves public speaking. Just thinking about standing in front of a crowd to speak is enough to make my  palms sweat, let alone the thought of reading from my own work!

As a fiction writer, I have daydreamed about the day I get a book published. I have pictured seeing it on store shelves, and  I’ve imagined picking up my book and seeing my name on the cover. What a feeling! It’s every writer’s dream.

With a book deal, of course, comes promotion and promotion usually means readings. That’s right, reading, out loud, in public!

Which leads us to every new writer’s fear: reading to an empty room when no one shows for your event.

mic and audience

I’ve been to several author readings some which have been well attended and some that were, well, not.

At one reading, my friend and I were among four or five people in attendance in the basement of a local bookstore. I remember, not only feeling a little bad for the author but fearing the same thing could happen to me one day.

I recently read an absorbing article in which an author described his experience when no one showed for a reading for his recently published book.

He describes his moment of panic just as the event is supposed to begin, where he considers his options which include drowning himself in the bathroom toilets or fleeing.

The author does neither and instead, reads to the small crowd in the bookstore and even signs a book for one remaining audience member.

 

The truth of it is, this could happen to any of us, writers, speakers, presenters, comedians, performers.

The author of this article admits that he didn’t tell anyone about the reading beforehand: “I’d posted something about it on Facebook, but that was about the equivalent of shouting the date and time of my reading out my open car window on I-95 in a rainstorm.”

Of course, in retrospect, he could have done more to promote the reading. He could have personally invited friends and co-workers since the reading took place in his hometown. He could have made calls, sent emails and even contacted local media.

But there are also a few things he could have done that night. He could have worked the store and introduced himself to the casual book browsers. He could have taken a slightly more assertive approach and put his book in people’s hands and invited them to sit and listen.

So what is a writer/presenter/performer to do when no one shows up for their reading/presentation/show?

Do what the author of this story did – make the most of it.

He read his book anyway. He caught the attention of students in the cafe and employees of the bookstore. This may not have gotten him any more sales, but it did get him one Twitter follower.

You can read his story here.

 

Writers, what would you do if no one showed up for your reading? Has this happened to you? How did you handle it?

 

 

Yoga for Writers

I’m the type of person who has a hard time sticking to any fitness routine for any length of time.

I am notorious for getting fitness videos to workout to in my living room. I’ve done Tae-bo with Billy Blanks and more recently the 30 Day Shred and Six Week Six Pack with Jillian Michaels. (Note that I did not stick with these long enough to either become shredded, or get a six pack) I enjoy them for a while but can’t seem to commit for much more than a few weeks.

I’ve tried the gym and it just isn’t for me. I can’t get past learning all the gym etiquette much less  muster up the motivation to make sense of all those machines. I’ve tried taking classes with the latest fitness trends: there was Jazzercise and Zumba … but I eventually grew too bored (or too broke) to keep up with them.

I’ve heard great things about Yoga and have wanted to try it for a while –  okay, years. As a person who works at desk all day, then comes home to write at a laptop, I thought I could benefit from some yoga.

Yoga lotus pose

Image courtesy of MeditationMusic.net

Yoga is known to strengthen and stretch the muscles and improve flexibility, improve blood circulation, counteract stress, and improve flexibility.

Whenever I am interested in learning more about something, one of the first things I do is read about it. So naturally I ran (drove – I do not run) to my local library and picked up a stack of books and DVDs on the subject.

NOTE: There are several different methods of Yoga, all which have different benefits – they’re not all about bending yourself up like a pretzel! My practice so far has consisted mostly of Hatha and Vinyasa Yoga.

After doing some initial research, I hopped onto YouTube and found Yoga with Adriene. Her beginner videos felt like just the right place to start. They were introductory in their style with helpful hints about focusing on breath, and connecting to the earth. Her Foundations of Yoga videos are a great way to get comfortable with various poses.

Then I found DoYogaWithMe.com – tons of completely FREE videos you can stream online! The videos are high quality and with so many to choose from you’re sure to find something that feels good for you. What’s so great about this site is that you can sort the videos by level and/or length and focus on your needs.

In last month or so, I have added yoga to my life slowly, anywhere from 2-5 times a week as my schedule allows. What I love about yoga is that I don’t need to rework my schedule to fit in a little bit each day. I can start by waking up 20 minutes earlier and doing some gentle yoga to start my day, or do a longer routine to unwind after work or before going to bed.

Just a week or so ago I woke up feeling tense and seriously achy. I did a twelve minute yoga routine for the neck and shoulders and felt so much better afterward!

If you are interested in yoga, here are a few tips for getting started.

Yoga Tips for Beginners

  • Begin by learning some of the  basics and vocabulary of yoga. If you jump right into doing yoga without understanding the language and poses, you may get a little hung-up. A few basic poses I learned before beginning were child’s pose, cat/cow, cobbler’s pose, and the well-known downward dog.
  • I am of the mindset, “try it before you buy it.” You may feel that you need to run out to get a mat, blocks and bolsters, buy DVDs and fancy yoga pants and workout gear. You don’t need to invest a ton of money to begin yoga. I have begun doing yoga completely free (and in my sweats.)
  • Be sure to start with routines like gentle yoga or yoga for beginners before moving on to more advanced routines and strenuous poses. Start with what feels good!
  • Once you are comfortable, check out your local gym to see what Yoga classes are offered that fit with your schedule. (Or, if you’re like me, don’t!)

Yoga Tips for Writers:

  • Visit DoYogaWithMe.com and be sure to check out the office yoga videos for short sessions focusing on the neck, back and shoulders.
  • When you’re feeling tense during the workday or during a long writing session, take a break to stretch for a few minutes every hour or so. Find a short yoga routine you can do in your office, or even right in your chair!
  • If you suffer from wrist pain from long hours at the keyboard like I do, check out the five minute stretching routine for the wrists and Yoga for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Finally, I feel I have found a routine I can commit to. Granted, I’m not exactly doing cardio with this practice and don’t expect to see me standing on my head anytime soon. But I have immensely enjoyed the stretching and relaxation that yoga has brought to my life.

I’d love to hear from you! Do you practice yoga? Do you want to start? Feel free to share your experience in the comments below.

Journal of the Month

In my last update post, I mentioned that I am researching literary magazines in preparation for submitting my first short story.

I am beginning to think that finding the right lit mags to submit to (along with determining each of their guidelines and requirements) might turn out to be more time consuming and painstaking than the writing and revising process.

Admittedly, this daunting task is what has deterred me from submitting my work in the past. Just thinking about it overwhelms me. There are hundreds of literary journals out there, each with their own niches, their own styles and caliber of contributors. First, what literary journals accept work from new, previously unpublished writers? How is a writer to know which journals are reputable in the literary world?

I have a short story that I have written, rewritten, had critiqued, edited and revised, had critiqued again and revised some more. I think I am finally ready to begin submitting it.

So begins the process of determining which magazines to submit my work to. Every published writer I have asked about this subject says the best way to determine where to send your work is by reading literary journals and finding one that fits for your story.

But where to start? To subscribe to a journal for a whole year feels like such a commitment – what, if after reading the first issue, I realize it is not the right fit for my work? To subscribe to multiple literary journals can add up to be a rather hefty investment, particularly for a “starving artist.”

That’s why I was so excited (and relieved) to find Journal of the Month, a subscription to receive a different lit journal every month.

Lit journals

I’ve received two journals so far – aren’t they beautiful?! I was pleasantly surprised that both were between 150 and 200 pages which I was not expecting. To make this deal even better, my friend and I split the cost and are sharing the journals as they arrive.

What a great way to get exposed to a variety of journals! How did I not know about this?!There are 32 participating journals, including The Georgia Review, Ploughshares, Salamander, Indiana Review and The Pinch.

I know you’re wondering, where do I sign up?! Here is the website for Journal of the Month Simply select your subscription length(from 4 journals to 24 journals) and your preferred frequency of delivery: monthly, every other month, or quarterly.

Subscribe, share with a friend, or send to a loved one  and insist that they get this for you for your next birthday, anniversary, or… just because!

I love hearing from you! What do you think of Journal of the Month?

What I’m Reading, What I’m Writing: Reading challenge update and preparing to submit

Inspired by the New Hampshire Writer’s Network Live to Write – Write to Live blog, I’ve decided to start my own regular posts about what I’m currently reading in books, audio books and blogs, and what I’m working on in my writing. I hope to make this a regular (weekly or biweekly) feature on the blog.

I hope you’ll share what interesting things you’re reading and writing in the comments, and please feel free to link back to your own blog!

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As Spring timidly begins to show her reluctant face, things are picking up. I have a busy few weeks ahead and it seems the first half of summer is already spoken for. In preparation of events to come, I’ve been quiet on the social media front. While I have certainly fallen behind on my blogging, I haven’t fallen behind on my reading. In fact, with 13 out of 44 books read so far this year, I’m one book ahead of schedule on my 2014 Reading Challenge!

Here’s a look at what I’ve been up to.

What I’m ReadingApe House Sara Gruen

In the last few weeks, my selection of reads have been across a variety of genres. I took a nostalgic trip to my younger days, listening to the audio book of The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I first read this as a teen, and I was surprised to find how much of it stayed with me over the years that have passed.

I read my first Neil Gaiman book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, a magical and transformative read. I listened to the audio book read by Neil Gaiman himself which itself was a treat!

I read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, a fun and quirky read. I flew through a lighthearted read, The Men I Didn’t Marry, and slogged through Proof of Heaven, a book I thought I would enjoy but didn’t.

Now I’ve just picked up Sara Gruen’s Ape House. Have you ever loved a book so much, you were afraid to read another book by the same author out of fear of not loving it as much as the first? Water for Elephants ranks among my favorite books of all time, and since reading it years ago, I’ve avoided reading any of Gruen’s other novels.

I have finally put my reservations aside to read this book that I’ve wanted to read for so long.

 

What I’m Writing

After going through two rounds of critiquing with a trusted writer friend, and another set of revisions, I’m preparing to submit a short story for publication. This will be my first attempt at submitting a piece I have written, and I am equal parts excited and anxious.

I’ve begun researching literary magazines to possibly submit to (more on my lit mag adventures later) and am bracing myself for the rejections that are sure to come. I will be sure to share my progress along the way!

 

My Favorite Quote of the Week:

“Energy and persistence conquer all things.”

– Benjamin Franklin

Blogs and findings around the Interwebs

Five amazing tips to help you write your novel
I love these tips from Alice Hoffman.

Advice every young writer needs to hear
A collection of short videos from published authors sharing their advice.

Oh, the Places you’ll Go!
From the Write Unboxed blog, how to create an authentic sense of place in fiction.

The 9 Ingredients for Character Development
Some tips from Writer’s Digest

23 Essential Quotes from Ernest Hemingway
What can I say, I just LOVE quotes about writing. This is a great collection of some great ones from Hemingway.

10 Life Lessons to Excel in your 30s
I enjoyed this article and hope to get a head start on a few of these things before I enter the next decade of life!

 

Enjoy the weekend!

What are you reading? What writing projects are you currently working on? Share your reading and writing adventures in the comments, and feel free to link back to your own blog!

Floor Plans and Visuals in World Building

There are lots of ways I plan and generate ideas when I’m building the world of a story. When I’m working on a novel, I get a notebook where I can jot down everything from outlines and timelines to characters sketches and scene ideas.

I’ve heard of many writers who doodle and draw in their creative process. While I like visual inspiration,  I am no artist, so my brainstorming usually takes written form – journal entries, letters and scribbled questions.

One thing I do like to see a visual of is a layout of my character’s home.

floor plan

When I am building the world of my characters, it often starts with the place where they live. Do they live in a studio apartment, a townhouse, a mansion? How many rooms does it have? Is it spacious or cramped?  How is it decorated?

In the days when Internet was dial-up, I used to look through home and garden magazines and department store catalogs to find images that seemed to reflect my characters’ tastes in bedding, curtains, furniture and gardens. I would clip them and save them in folders that I could revisit when I needed help describing something or setting the scene.

Pinterest has since replaced my magazine clipping and is a fun way to collect ideas and inspiration. (see my post on Pinterest for Writers, Readers and Bloggers)

I found websites that let you design floor plans for free which can be a ton of fun but mostly, I don’t have the patience for all that. All I need is a rough sketch to help me visualize things.

Sketching a floor plan usually comes somewhere in the middle of the creative process for me. I’ll have a vague image of the space in my mind as I’m writing, but eventually I get to a point where I like to see how everything is connected. Once I draw out the floor plan, it helps me to understand where my characters (physically) are as they move through the rooms.

After I have a solid grasp around the layout of the rooms, I can focus on the details like the  arrangement of the furniture and the location of windows and doors.

Then I turn to visuals like Pinterest to think about the decor and how it reflects the character’s personality and tastes.

Slowly, it all starts to come together. I no longer have characters walking around in white-washed rooms, they have a leather couch to collapse on to and a copper tea kettle on the gas stove to make a warm beverage.

Writers, do you create floor plans when you’re world-building? Do you sketch or draw as part of your creative process? What sort of visuals do you use to inspire your stories?

What I’m Reading, What I’m Writing: Winter Reads and Editing

Inspired by the New Hampshire Writer’s Network Live to Write – Write to Live blog, I’ve decided to start my own regular posts about what I’m currently reading in books, audio books and blogs, and what I’m working on in my writing. I hope to make this a regular (weekly or biweekly) feature on the blog.

I hope you’ll share what interesting things you’re reading and writing in the comments, and please feel free to link back to your own blog!

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As we officially settle into mid-March, I wish I were writing this post in more Spring-like conditions. In my part of the world, we’re moving on after a pretty substantial snow storm that brought blustery, bitter winds and, of course, snow. Just last week we set a record for the coldest temperature ever recorded in March: -9 and that’s air temperature, I’m not talking about wind chill here, people. I live in an area that can handle the winter weather, but even us New Englanders are ready for winter to be over.

To give you an idea of how ready for Spring I am, I actually dreamed that I woke up to flowers blooming outside my window. Unfortunately, I will have to wait a few more weeks before that dream comes true.

The advantage of this cold, harsh weather is that it provides the perfect atmosphere to curl up with a good book and a warm beverage.

What I’m ReadingGone Girl

I just finished listening to the audio book of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. This was one of those books I just kept hearing about. I heard some slightly mixed reviews although the reactions have been mostly positive.

I was hesitant to pick this book up, partly because I have a tendency to avoid super popular books until they have fallen off most peoples’ radar, but also because of its length. I hate to admit it but when I realized the audio book was 15 discs long, I cringed a little. But I decided to give it  a listen to see for myself.

It took me a few weeks to get through it after missing a few days for work travel, I’m glad I decided to give this book a try. I found it to be suspenseful, entertaining and cleverly written.

Now I hear there will be a movie coming out this year and the rumor is that the move ending will be different than the book. I can’t say I’m surprised as I found the ending to be a little lackluster after all the buildup. I wonder if this is a case where the move might be better than the book?

snow childAnother book I’m excited about is Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child. I heard of it when it was selected for 2014’s If All of Rochester Read the same Book.  This awesome program through Writer’s and Books spotlights one book each year and sparks a plethora of related literary events.

The author will be visiting Rochester next week, and I can’t wait to attend a reading and Q&A session! I will blog about the experience so be sure to check back!

In the meantime, I am immensely enjoying this book – and it is very weather appropriate!

What I’m Writing

I am currently in editing mode. I have sent my current WIP off to a trusted reader for a second round of critiquing. My goal is to get this short-story polished in preparation for submitting it to some literary magazines in the near future.

This will be a first for me, but I’m excited by the challenge.

My Favorite Quote of the Week:

“Put everything you’ve got into everything you do.”

– John Maxwell

(See above!)

Blogs and findings around the Interwebs

Should Authors Have to “Market Themselves”
I read Kristen Lamb’s blog religiously and this post is another example of why I never miss a post!

A Mighty Girl
As a long-distance auntie, I am always on the lookout for interesting and empowering reads for my nieces. I learned about this website and fell in love. Follow A Might Girls on Facebook and Twitter for updates and inspiration.

10 Great Gifts for Grammar Geeks
For fun…

The 10 Best Beauty Uses for Baking Soda
This isn’t a literary link, but I found it rather fascinating and thought I would share! Thanks, Dr. Oz!

What are you reading? What writing projects are you currently working on? Share your reading and writing adventures in the comments, and feel free to link back to your own blog!

Weekend Writing and Why I Hate Mondays

As a writer with a day job, I have to make the time to write when I can.

I have found that mornings are great for writing, when I’m in that half-asleep daze, still connected to that subconscious dream-like state, the right side of my brain firing more than the left side. In the morning, I can get (some) writing done before my day begins. Writing in the morning is the best way for me to write every day.

But I’ve never been a morning person – especially in the winter. Especially during this particularly long, cruel winter – I have spent many mornings pulling the covers over my head to delay facing another day of snow and single-digit temperatures. Get Up

For these reasons, I haven’t been doing much morning-writing these past few months.

This is why weekends are when I get most of my writing done, particularly the Saturdays and Sundays in the dead of winter. Where summertime is filled with barbecues, bonfires and afternoons spent outdoors enjoying the sunshine and warmth, wintertime sees everyone disappear into hibernation for weeks at a time.

These quiet gray days are perfect for writing. For me, the weekend is when the world slows down. I can get lost in the world I’m creating and the characters I’m developing.

I typically have the house to myself as my husband works most weekends. So I can wake up on my own, read the newspaper and enjoy a cup or two of coffee, then fire up my laptop and start writing.

On a gray Saturday or Sunday, I lose track of time as the morning passes into afternoon. I am comfortable on the couch with the newspaper discards strewn around me, laptop in my lap, the keys clacking as I write or blog.  I am under a blanket and a cat is curled up beside me, another napping at my feet.

I will break from writing to gather and start the laundry, run the vacuum and unload the dishwasher, and get the weekend chores out of the way. But I always return to the laptop, a book or three and a notebook and pen within arm’s reach. For me, that’s a perfect way to spend a Sunday (and Saturday too, if I’m lucky!)

This is why Mondays can be so difficult. I often find myself in a Monday morning fog with that eerie feeling where you arrive at your destination but don’t remember getting there.  I go through the motions of turning on my computer and going about my tasks while my mind is still lingering over that last scene.

After spending two whole days with the freedom of going at my own pace, after two days of leisurely writing time, Monday means leaving my fictional world and returning to the Real World. It means a return to days with sleep interrupted by an alarm clock, coffee in a to-go mug, commuting and traffic and email and paperwork. It has nothing to do with the job itself and everything to do with its contrast to my writing life.

I can try to recreate my writing zone in the evening after the work day is done, squeezing in time between dinner and dishes and preparing for the next day, but I can’t get as easily lost in it as I do on the weekend. And so I must wait until the weekend comes around again.

So pardon me if I seem a little out of sorts on Mondays. You’ll have to excuse me for being a bit cranky and dazed on the first day of the work week. Though my feet are planted in this world, my head is still in another world entirely.

Do you dread or adore Mondays? Writers, how do you handle the transition from your writing world to your day job?


Subscribe to my blog for more posts like this and follow me on Twitter @IamJenniferK for more musings on the writing life.

This post was inspired by, Does Anyone Else Look Forward to Mondays? on the Live to Write, Write to Live Blog. 

What does “Write What you Know” Really Mean?

We’ve all heard the writing advice: write what you know.

If taken literally, this bit of wisdom can be perplexing. If we only write what we know, how can we pursue new places and things in our stories? If I only wrote what I knew, all my stories would be about a middle class white girl in the suburbs.

So what does this advice really mean?

A few months back I came across a blog that shared this video, and it has really stuck with me. Take a look:

Gervais says, “Being honest is what counts. Trying to make the ordinary extraordinary is so much better than starting with the extraordinary because it doesn’t really connect…”

I think what Gervais is touching on here is that it’s the intimacy with what we know that comes across on the page. We must start with the details: the smell of tea and lavender. These are the (perhaps seemingly mundane) details that breathe life into the world of our story. The sensory details, the specifics we pull from our everyday lives are the things that make our stories feel real, they are what our readers connect with.

Natalie Goldberg writes, “…using the details you actually know and have seen will give your writing believably and truthfulness. It creates a good solid foundation from which you can build.”

Our experiences are the basis for our stories, they are what we bring to the table as writers.

Anne Lamott said, “…good writing is about telling the truth.” She also said, “When you tell the truth it turns out to be universal.”

We might believe that unless we have overcome some great hardship, endured a tragedy or experienced a wild adventure, our lives are uninteresting. But hidden in those seemingly mundane experiences of our everyday lives are the secrets we thought we’d never tell anyone, our fears we believed would make us freaks or outcasts – these are the universal truths we uncover in our writing.

For example, I’m currently reading Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, and there was a magical moment where I learned I was not the only socially anxious English major to have had a fear of college dining halls:

“In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you, (And the ones you can’t Google.) Like, where does the line start? What food can you take? Where are you supposed to stand, then where are you supposed to sit? Where do you go when you’re done, why is everyone watching you? …”

From chapter 2, Fangirl Copyright 2013 by Rainbow Rowell

And all the time I’m reading this, I am thinking, Yes! I thought I was the only one! I thought I was the only socially awkward person with these irrational fears but here is this author, writing about it as if she pulled the thoughts from my mind.

Perhaps Rainbow Rowell had these fears too or knew someone who was brave enough to share those fears with her. Those are our truths that turn out to be universal.

This is the intimacy, the truthfulness, I am always trying to achieve in my writing. Moments like this are why I write (and why I love to read.)

What is your take on this advice? What does “write what you know” mean to you?

This Week: What I’m Reading, What I’m Writing

Inspired by the New Hampshire Writer’s Network Live to Write – Write to Live blog, I’ve decided to start my own regular posts about what I’m currently reading in books, audiobooks and blogs, and what I’m working on in my writing. I hope to make this a regular (weekly or biweekly) feature on the blog.

I hope you’ll share what interesting things you’re reading and writing in the comments, and please feel free to link back to your own blog!

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It’s been a while since I’ve written a wrap-up post. But I’ve finished my first book(s) of the new year and I’m working on a writing project –  I’m ready to share and I hope you will too!

What I’m Reading

The Cuckoo's CallingI started the year with a pick that is a bit out of the ordinary for me as I don’t read many mystery/crime novels.  My first read for 2014 was The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith – the pseudonym for J.K. Rowling.  I selected it because I heard it was a “brilliant debut mystery in a classic vein.”

The author isn’t reinventing the crime-novel here. The Cuckoo’s Calling has many of the signature crime-novel elements: a down-on-his-luck private investigator, smarter than the cops who investigate a death they rule a suicide but that some are convinced was murder.

There is no trace of Harry Potter here, but Rowling writes a decent crime novel. I enjoyed
Rowling’s descriptive writing sets and the characters are likable.

Though it didn’t rock my literary world, I found it to be an entertaining read. Has anyone else read this one yet? What did you think?

Shanghai Girls

I also recently finished Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. The book’s description piqued my interest:  two sisters living in Shanghai who move to Los Angeles in the 1930’s to find new lives.

As Japanese bombs fall on May and Pearl’s beloved city of Shanghai and their lives begin to crumble, their journey to America is not at all what they imagined it would be. Their stories are heartbreaking as misfortune finds them at every turn; their naivete is frustrating as they refuse again and again to see the gravity of their situation.

Told over two decades, I felt the story lost its intimacy as the novel seemed to go on and on. I kept thinking, how many more bad things can happen to these girls? The story of May and Pearl’s journey to Los Angeles was powerful, but the novel continued on, telling of the hardships they face in America, the discrimination they endure, and their struggles to become Americanized while trying to honor their Chinese traditions.

After finishing Shanghai Girls, I learned there is a second book, Dreams of Joy. After browsing some reviews, I learned that some readers enjoyed Shanghai Girls more once they had read Dreams of Joy and felt the books are best when read together. Has anyone read one or both? I’d love to hear your experience. I plan to read Dreams of Joy in the future. Perhaps reading the follow-up with change my opinion.

What I’m Writing

Earlier this week I wrote about stories that I keep coming back to but always leave in some state of in-completion. My writing goal for 2014 is to (finally) finish a short story and submit it to some literary journals with the hope of publication. One such story is one I wrote this past summer that I think has potential. I’ve already written several drafts but have been feeling that it isn’t quite ready to submit.

I’ve been making revisions to this story over the past few weeks. I rewrote the opening scene and deleted a few paragraphs. I am focused on the details now, adding a sentence here, a description there.

Next month I will be sending it off to my writer friend to be read and critiqued! I will be sharing updates on the story’s progress.

My Favorite Quote of the Week:

you cant edit a blank page

Blogs and findings around the Interwebs

For Readers:

Here are some Crafty DIY Bookmark Ideas 

10 Amazing Novels That Are Super Long, But Totally Worth It
This list makes me want to pull my copy of Anna Karenina off the shelf. Well, we’ll see…

For Writers:

Five Ways Writers can Recycle Their Discarded Material
This post from blogger and fantasy writer Victoria Grefer is what got me thinking about the practice of writing and how everything we write is useful.

Days Without Writing
A great read for any writer with a day job.

Read any good books lately? Share your reading and writing adventures in the comments, and feel free to link back to your own blog!

The Practice of Writing

While having coffee with a friend last week, talking about our writing and what we’re working on, I realized I have several stories I wrote five, six or even seven years ago that I keep coming back to. I visit them from time to time, their characters still rattling around in my mind like old friends I haven’t seen in a while. I wondered, is it sad that after so much time I am still hung up on stories I wrote so long ago? Is it time to let them go, to move on?

I see every piece I write, regardless of whether or not it ever sees the light of day, as practice. Whether it is a short story I wrote in a workshop or a few pages written in a burst of inspiration, they are all part of the practice of writing. With each revision I am stretching my writing muscles, developing my plot a little deeper, breathing more life into my characters.

I can look back on the various drafts of these stories and see their progression and my growth as a writer. Though I originally wrote these stories several years ago, over that time, they have evolved. They have gone from first drafts written hastily in order to meet a deadline, to second drafts and third drafts, each one better than the last.

In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg talks about what she calls, composting:

Our bodies are garbage heaps: we collect experience, and from the decomposition of the the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat and very fertile soil. Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories.”

Soil

Every story has value, it is all practice. It is compost for us to work with, none of it is wasted.

I save just about everything I write, including those little passages and pages written in a moment of insight that didn’t amount to much. Those are always fun to come back to; they are characters, scenes and moments in time that stay with me that may eventually turn into something more.

Those deleted scenes, discarded characters and unused settings are all part of that compost too.

My error is not that I have held on to these stories for too long;  it is that I have neglected to bring any one of them to a stage of being polished and print ready. Rather than doing the hard work and editing necessary to finish them, each time I’ve returned to them I’ve  left them in some state of in-completion.

If a piece no longer has movement, if there is nothing left I can do with a story to move it forward then perhaps, yes, it becomes time to “move on.” Until then,  I will still think of them every now and again when I hear a particular turn of phrase or a certain song on the radio, and I’ll continue to work the soil.

Do you still return to poems or stories you wrote years ago? What keeps you coming back to them and how do you know when it is time to move on?