Grateful at the End of a Frustrating Day

The other morning Lionel tried to convince me to stay home. “Meow, meow,” he said “rrrmmeow.” I should have listened to him.

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Be warned: There is much grouchiness in this post.

The train was slow, so I missed my regular subway and took the next one. So far, not too bad–a couple of minutes behind schedule. But then, the third subway was crowded and late, and worst of all, I missed the announcement that it was going express. I ended up 11 blocks past my destination and had to walk back. So, instead of getting into work at 7:20, I arrived at 7:40–and I had a coverage first period. (For those of you not in the teaching profession, this means that I had to cover a class for a teacher absent today instead of having the prep period I expected.) No time for breakfast.

For the previous two days, my classroom had been boiling; the head had been pumping full force, so I dressed a little lighter: cotton top with 3/4 sleeves, long skirt, no tights. Naturally with Murphy’s law in full force, after first period there was an announcement: “There is no heat today. Students may wear non-uniform hoodies and jackets.” Great. Just Great. It was cold in there!

Luckily, though, it was a half a day with no faculty meeting following, and I had plans to meet a friend to see Da Vinci’s Salvatore Mundi at Christie’s. Yes, Leonardo Da Vinci. This painting had been in private and royal collections for the past two hundred years. It was being sold that night and will probably not be seen again for another two hundred years. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. And, I missed it. When we got to the auction house at 1:30, they informed us that the viewing ended at noon. So much for my attempt at buoying my creativity with a 500 year old masterpiece.

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Nevertheless, I still tried to muster some creativity. I went to a public atrium to write, but alas, there were no seats left. I trudged over to Barnes and Noble only to discover, after buying a tea that I really didn’t need but bought because I wanted to settle in at their cafe, that their wi-fi was not really working. I wanted to edit something on my Chromebook, so I needed the wi-fi to access it. UGH! I began to feel like I was wasting the day. It’s not often that I have an afternoon with neither classes, meetings, nor make-up tests and the like. And here I was traipsing from place to place, carrying a laptop, but getting nothing done.

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Annoyed and a bit aimless, I went back to the public atrium and, lo and behold, found a spot! PHEW! I popped open the Chromebook and started writing. FINALLY! And like that–WOOSH–the day was saved. So in this week of Thanksgiving, I want to publicly express my gratefulness for words-words on the screen, words on the page, words typed by my hands, words inked by my pen, words shared by others, words by the greats, and words by the small.  Let me remember to let writing, and reading, take me away from the grouchiness of the world when the best laid plans lead me to one obstacle and then another. Let me read my way to another reality, and write my way out of a funk. Thank you. Word.

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#WhyIWrite

Today is #NationalDayonWriting, and it has been a whirlwind, hectic day, with paper everywhere, pens scratching, and keys clicking, which means it has been a very good writing day. I celebrated with my students, doing writing activities in all my classes, including a “Tweet” board in the alcove outside my classroom for students to post #WhyIWrite messages.

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Though many were hesitant at first about the assignments, they tried, and succeeded! The sophomores are well on their way to creating detailed descriptive paragraphs about the view from their windows. The juniors are crafting beautiful poetry about a treasured object or love (or as it seems, love gone wrong). And the seniors are are producing academic prose–a mini-research paper on Pygmalion by the Brit Lit group and an analytical essay on symbolism in “The Japanese Quince” by the AP group.

In Brit Lit, we read some critical excerpts yesterday and took notes, so today, the students were asked to bring in one article from a specific database on their chosen topics. Then I walked them through the process of taking notes from an academic article. As they continued on their own articles, I walked around the room offering help and encouragement where I could. Then one student asked me, “When are we going to write this paper?” I said, “We’re doing it now, aren’t we?” Yes, writing is a process. Yes, it’s worth it. Yes, I think they’re getting it. 🤞

The only thing I was not able to do with my students was write with them today, but I could at least talk to them about what I am writing. When one student apologized for her poem being long (maybe a dozen lines), I told her not to worry; I had written a poem this week that went on for two typed pages.

And then I had a prep period which I used to put some finishing touches on said poem and submit it. 🤞

On the way home, I tweeted about #WhyIWrite: “Fueled by coffee and imagination, I can go anywhere, be anyone, anytime, including myself, now.” But that tweet only covers a part of it. Writing rejuvenates me, frustrates me, engrosses me, and exhilarates me. I write to live. I write to communicate. I write to teach, and I write to learn. I write to understand and to be understood. I write because in the beginning was the Word. Writing is in my soul.  

Wishing you a happy National Day on Writing, and many more happy writing days to come!

PUBLICATION: New Verse News

I am proud to announce publication of my poem “Hacking Entertainment” which describes the divisive qualities of hacking as well as comments on how we take television more seriously than national security. It is featured in New Verse News today.  Click through and check it out!

Revision

Today’s task is revision. There is a personal essay I’ve written and revised which has not been able to find a home, but I still believe in the message, so I must work on the medium. It’s time to revise again before hurling that bottle back out into the ocean.

And so, with that in mind, I find myself a quiet corner and a cup of coffee and open my laptop. Logging into my Google Drive, the Quick Access panel at the top of the page displays thumbnails of four files, one of which is captioned “You edited this week.” Two others are labelled “You edited this month.” The fourth, which actually appears as the third thumbnail, is blazoned with “You edited at some point.” For some reason (and at some point), that makes me laugh.

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Is this a sign of encouragement or accusation? Should I be glad that the file was in fact edited at some vague point in the past, or should I feel guilty that I have neglected it for, well who knows how long, but at least more than a month? What is Google’s purpose here? Its motivation? Maybe it’s passive-aggressive; “you worked on this once, what happened? It’s been a while, you know, and you need to do a bit more. I mean, it’s been so long that even I, the Great Google, cannot remember when you last opened this file.” Then again, maybe it isn’t passive-aggressive; maybe Google is like, “Yeah! You did some work on this! Isn’t that great! Pat yourself on the back.” I cannot decide on the tone.

Whatever it is, I cannot help but think of my friend Gerri’s blog, Grammarian in the City, on which she makes snarky remarks about signs seen around NYC. If this comment on my revision schedule were posted on a building, I’m sure she’d have something to say about it!

In the meantime, I’ll get back to my revisions “at some point” and hope Google approves.

No, No, No

Today was a banner day. I received not one, not two, but three rejections. Rather disheartening, especially for the short story that was only submitted four days ago. Rejection form letters, or as it’s done these days emails, assure us writers that each and every submission is read completely and with care, yet when a nearly 2,700 word story returns so quickly, one cannot help but wonder. And become dejected.

I received two of the rejections while I was still at art school this afternoon, but I kept the news to myself. One rejection was, dare I say it, expected. Each week Rattle publishes a poem based on that week’s news. I sometimes submit but have yet to be published there. Writing on the week’s news is an interesting exercise. The news these days certainly provides much fodder for contemplation and reaction. Yet, writing quickly for a weekly, Friday night deadline is tough. Sometimes, the poem is a bit raw. This week’s poem has promise but was not quite ready–particularly in finding a title. I was not surprised, yet still disappointed.

The second rejection was harder. It was another poem that had originally been written for Rattle’s Poet’s Respond, but this one was a week or so old, and therefore, I have had time to do some revising. I think it is a good poem. But, alas, this site I sent it to, only four days ago has (foolishly, in my opinion) decided it is not for them. This was disheartening for me because I debated with myself at length whether or not to even submit to this market as it is a non-paying market. Usually, I don’t submit to non-paying markets; if I’m not going to be paid for my poetry, I’ll publish it here. Yet, this particular site notes on their “About” page that the editors are volunteers. That swayed my opinion towards giving them a shot.

Then, there was the third rejection, the short story. As I was driving home, my phone chimed that a new message came in, but, of course, I did not look at it. Yet, then once I parked, I called my husband to help me with the packages, and while I waited for him, I succumbed to opening the email. Dismay.

I cannot say that I did not get discouraged. I did. For a fleeting moment, I thought, why do I do it? But that moment passed, and I got back on the horse, as they say. This evening, I did some revising and then sent out three new submissions: the short story, the poem from this week’s Poet’s Respond, and other poems. Back to crossing my fingers and wishing on a star. Send your good thoughts my way, and to my prospective editors!!

And now to a new story…

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Handwritten or Typed?

My adventures in novel writing continue. I finished reading through all I printed out and realized, to my dismay, that the point-of-view problem I thought I had solved for one section of the story, was in fact not solved. Back to the drawing board for that one. I scribbled in the first set of revisions. Now I can go at it again when I transfer those handwritten changes to the computer file.

I find that I prefer to write my first draft by hand, then type, then print out, then revise by hand, then type again. Yes, I do also revise by reading on screen and making changes to individual sections (or short stories), but I find for this longer work, printing out and reading it on paper makes a difference. It seems a bit old school, I know, but what I realized today is that by working on paper, I was not distracted by every other open (or available to be opened) tab on the computer. My focus remained on the story. In fact, when I did open the computer today to implement some of those changes, I was immediately distracted by a notification of a FB post. Which I had to check. Of course. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see

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Okay, it’s my own photo, my own post. But who else liked it? I mean, he’s cute right? It is easy to get sucked into the seratonin producing checking of “likes.” But I digress. Again. That is the problem and the benefit of the Internet. There is so much to catch our attention and easy ways to find and convey information. (Here I am, writing this blog!) But the business of writing sometimes, most times, needs more concentrated focus. For me this means a messy desk of papers, notebooks, and print outs. It is not the most efficient or most ecological method, but for now, it works. I think it would work better if my filing system were better, but that goes for the electronic filing system as well. So, I ask once again for you, my readers, to share your thoughts. Don’t be shy! How do you like to write and revise? By hand? electronically? Do you have any suggestions for keeping track of your drafts? Inquiring minds want to know.

Oh and by the way of full disclosure, I contradict myself when I write this blog. These entries I tend to write directly into (or is it onto? Gerri, what do you think?) the computer (or phone or tablet, depending on where I am when I write them) with the exception of some of the poetry. So perhaps you would like to comment on your exceptions as well. Do you approach some writing with one method and other writing with another? Is it genre that determines the mechanics or time and place? I think for myself, it is a combination of both. If you are generous enough to share some of your thoughts with me, I’ll follow up with another post highlighting your contributions. (And probably another photo of Lionel 🙂 )

Writing, Rambling, and a Cat

Today I managed what I consider a great feat: I got my printer to work again! Ever since my computer updated, I have not been able to print anything. And for the most part, that has been okay. But I have been writing for much of the summer, working on a novel that I have attacked in fits and starts for years now. I really wanted to make some headway this summer and see if it still has life to it. And I have. You see, since I have worked on and off for years on this and in different places, the bits and pieces have been all over the place. I wrote much of the story longhand at first in a couple of different notebooks. I have take much of that and revised and typed this summer to get a good idea of what I have, putting different chapters or sections in different files. Getting the printer going has allowed me to print it all out and read through it together–as one would a novel. Now I can get an idea of what works, what doesn’t, and what’s missing as I figure out if the parts make a whole.

So I am very happy with myself.

Then, I start reading.

Immediately, I realize that the whole beginning needs editing. I mean, of course it does; I am not shocked, but still. The beginning? The first line? It can be a little disheartening. But I get to it. I make some changes. It’s good, but there’s a question I am not sure about regarding the positions of mortician and coroner. Hmmm…(Did I mention that much of the novel takes place in a funeral home?) I’d better do some more research. Luckily, I have a friend who just finished her mortuary science degree, and I have been able to call on her for some detail verification, but today, I went to the Internet where I found some fascinating reading on the history of coroners and mortuary science as well as the incredibly varied systems around the country regarding the business of death. But, I digress. Time to click that tab shut, close the laptop, and return to the printout.  Which I do. And I find a way out of the dilemma that sent me to those articles in the first place. Another win!

Then, my assistant shows up:

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He has another opinion about writing.

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His opinion is that writing keeps me from petting him, and therefore all implements thereof must be destroyed. Luckily, he has not been successful in his attempts, but I do think a petting and feeding break is in order!

Wish me luck as I continue on my quest, especially as it seems there is one file missing. I may have to go back to the notebooks yet again to continue the revision and typing before I can attack the ending–as of yet unwritten in any form, but floating around my head looking for an anchor.

 

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All morning I’ve been procrastinating. I should be writing. I know it. I want it. But for some reason, I don’t do it! I was crocheting, grooming the cat, making myself a smoothie, Facebooking, and watching TV. Not very productive. Well, except for the crocheting and grooming the cat, he needed it and mostly enjoyed it. Looking around the apartment, I also saw a million things that needed to be done, so I did what any self-respecting writer should do in a time like this; I ran away.

Okay, so I only walked up the block to the new Bean & Bean Coffee Roasters that opened on the corner, but it’s out of the house. I haven’t been here before, but I like the ambiance right away; not too loud, nor too quiet. I may have to rethink my seat as by the window on this sunny day may be too bright, but so far, all is good. Now I have a latte, my Chromebook, my notebook, and I’m good to go. If I get a good amount written in the next two hours, I may treat myself to a beer before I go. Who knew that Bean & Bean serves beer and wine too! (Then again, I probably won’t. I want to go to the gym later. Can you go to the gym after a beer?)

Wish me luck in working the story on the docket today. I hope you each have found yourself a good space to work as well.

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Damn! I’ve Gotta Rip It!

According to my husband, my mother-in-law used to say, “Damn, I’ve gotta rip it” when she made a mistake in her crocheting or knitting. First of all, let me say that she was such a good crafter that I can hardly imagine her making a mistake. On the other hand, I know how easy it is to drop a stitch. And it is frustrating. How frustrating depends on how quickly you realize it. Tonight, for example, I realized I had dropped a stitch in a very easy pattern about 12 rows back. Boy was I annoyed! “Damn, I’ve gotta rip it!”

20170715_232938Just as I thought I was making headway and  nearing last third of the project, I sent myself back to less than halfway. (The picture was taken after I had already rewound much of the yarn.) I am frustrated now. Yet, also strangely inspired. (Hence this late night blog)

Creativity does that to us doesn’t it? We are inspired by something and we forge ahead trying to get what is in our heads out in whatever form we are working in at the moment. We struggle with the words on the screen (or paper) or with drawing that picture that is so clear in the mind’s eye or in crocheting a perfect blanket. What is in our heads is so beautiful, so inspiring, so communicative. But what comes out at the end of the pencil, the brush, the hook, the needle, is often so knotted and gnarled that we go back again and again to smooth it out, leaving instead a muddied, crinkly wake in our trail.

But it does smooth out. The tough part is believing in the process again and again. Not letting the defeat of ripping out a dozen rows of a blanket get in the way of completing it nonetheless. Not letting the umpteenth rejection letter stop you from writing or submitting. Not letting the misshapened hand or disporportionate body lead you to putting down the charcoal or the brush. The mistakes we make show us what not to do in the future. They lead us to the another path and another perception. And sometimes, they lead us to an altogether new inspiration that we had missed in our single-minded pursuit of the original vision.

To Fee or Not to Fee?

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Yesterday, I spent the day researching markets for my writing and sending out some pieces. (Wish me luck!) It is an arduous process, the least favorite of my writing career–well, let’s say second-least favorite. Receiving rejection notices is my least favorite.

First, let’s talk about submission guidelines. Some are very specific: “All manuscripts should be in 12-point type, with at least one-inch margins, and sequentially numbered pages. Fiction and nonfiction should be double-spaced. Poetry should be single-spaced. The author’s name, address, telephone number, and email address should be typed at the top of the first page.” (Narrative Magazine) or “Upcoming premises (target themes) and deadlines for submission [postmarked]: Dancing in the Wind [November 1, 2017]” (Thema) Others are rather vague: “There is no set theme and no entry fee.” (Pockets) Some magazines only accept electronic submissions, others only postal mail. Very few want emails, but still there are a couple. Submission guidelines run the gambit, and writers do themselves a disservice if they do not read them carefully (and follow them).

Simultaneous submissions is another area of differentiation. Some magazines do not accept simultaneous submissions; others do. There are some, too, that say they do, but in a way that makes you think that they do not really mean it. Take, for example, The Gettysburg Review‘s stance on simultaneous submissions: “Should you decide to engage in this practice, indicate in your cover letter that your manuscript is under concurrent consideration, and notify us immediately if said work is accepted elsewhere.” What the site says is the standard line about letting the magazine know that the work is being considered elsewhere and the reminder to let them know if it is accepted elsewhere. These are standard industry practices. However, the “should you decide to engage in this practice” leads this writer to believe that they discourage such action. The onus is on you, the writer, who makes the decision to do such a thing. On the other hand, the Colorado Review states, “Simultaneous submissions are accepted; writers must notify us immediately if the work is accepted elsewhere.” Notice the difference. Here the emphasis is on what the review does–accept simultaneous submissions–rather than what the writer does–submit simultaneously. And then there are the magazines that do not say one way or the other, leaving the writer in a quandry: submit simultaneously or not? My favorite notice on the topic though comes from Narrative: “Simultaneous Submissions: We accept multiple submissions, since we feel that it’s unreasonable to expect writers to give a magazine an exclusive look at a work unless the magazine can respond within two to three weeks. We want writers to have every possible opportunity for success, so we’re willing to risk losing a story we want when someone at another magazine may have done their reading before we have, and in that case we’ll be sorry to lose the piece but happy for the writer.” They are right! It is “unreasonable to expect writers to give a magazine an exclusive look at a work” for three, six, nine months. They do understand the hard work of finding a market and the difficulty of waiting for months and months before hearing back and being able to send the story out again.

Then there’s the BIG QUESTION: Do you pay a submission fee or not? As you writers out there know, some magazines charge a nominal fee to submit. Years ago, these were called reading fees and highly frowned upon. In fact, writers were often advised to avoid markets that charged a reading fee, saying that such markets were perhaps not reputable. But those days have changed. In the age of electronic submission and and the advent of electronic submission sites like Submittable or Submissions Manager, many highly regarded, reputable sites are charging, not reading fees, but submission fees. And I get it. The magazine has to pay for the use of the submission sites, and need the organization and computer safety that they offer. And these literary magazines are run on shoe-string budgets. However, so am I. While most of these fees are small, usually $3.00, they add up. It is not unusual to send a good story to ten different markets before finding a home for it. That’s $30 spent finding a home for one story. What if you are sending out poetry? You might send out four or five poems at a time, but if it takes ten tries and the market takes one of the five and pays you $20 for it, you’ve lost $10.  Is it worth it to have been published? to have been published in that particular market? I don’t know. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this practice.

One final thought on submission guidelines and the like: How much does the market pay? Frequently, the websites and guidelines do not say. Perhaps you will get paid; perhaps you will get contributor copies. And yes, many markets indicate the latter, but just as many indicate nothing. And some of those that do not say, charge the submissions fee. Should I pay a fee with no guarantee that I will be paid for my work should it be accepted? Should I submit to markets that are clear that they do not pay at all? These are burning questions. I hope some of you will engage in a dialogue here about submitting your work.

A friend of mine writing his memoir once said to me, “I expect to publish and I expect to get paid for it.” Why shouldn’t we?