Tips from the MFA Pit – Part 4 – A room of one’s own

Another school year, another entry from the MFA Pit. This time it’s all about process, about conjuring up your creative muse, about getting that perfect writing space, about finding the time to write. This semester MFA Candidate One is studying Aesthetic and Process, about why we write what we write, and how to go about bringing that process to fruition…

Here we are again, this time, examining your writing process as well as—and we’ll get to that soon enough—why you write what you write. Sometimes you can’t exactly say why you’re drawn to a particular genre. You may like romance because you like an HEA (happily ever after), or you like fantasy as you’re always drawn to other worlds. Whatever captures your imagination is something very individual to you, and it’s something that you’ll explore as well as you go along. You discovered this a bit in a previous semester, when you started out writing a straight romance, then found out you’re so much more comfortable adapting those romantic concepts to fantasy. More revelations we come along soon enough this semester, and this will become more apparent when you write a closing paper at the end.
Process is something we’re sometimes slow to discover. It’s the “how” of what we’re writing. You mentioned in the beginning essay you don’t find outlining as helpful as it could be. Well, I’ve discovered over the years there’s really two basic kind of writers out there—the pantsters and the planners. The pantsters write by the seat of their pants—start the story and then let the characters take them where they may. The planners find this process horrifying. They outline, they use index cards, bulletin boards, collages—anything to keep them in sequence and on track. Most writers fall somewhere in between. Your using a journal is a good example of this. I always have what I call my story guide. It’s a kind of a journal in which I list my characters, their names, occupations, descriptions, characteristics, etc. I list the main plot of the story, the conflict, the dark moment, mostly all the things I need to keep straight as the story progresses. For example, you forget how old one of your characters is, or in what town they’re to meet the villain at the end. This gives you something you could always refer back to. It’s also a handy place to list changes you want to adapt in later chapters when you’re editing a draft.
A place to write can be tricky at times when you live with other people. Unless you have a dedicated space at home, you sometimes have to shift around our make compromises. But it could also be outside of where you live. It could be a favorite bench in a park, a table at Starbucks, or in the 3rd floor lounge in the Student Center (I wrote a flash fiction piece there once!) It’s anyplace where you can wrap your head around your story. And that’s only up to you to decide.
Until next time — Writers write!
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Poor Yorick is Open for Submissions

Poor Yorick: A Journal of Rediscovered Objects is an online literary publication of the MFA Program at Western Connecticut State University. The journal publishes poems, stories, essays, profiles, digital video shorts, photo essays, scholarly articles, and other innovative works about or inspired by rediscovered objects and/or images of material culture. In addition to unsolicited submissions, the journal’s editorial staff will occasionally identify a particular historical object, collection, exhibit, etc., and call for submissions inspired by the selected artifact. Poor Yorick also works in conjunction with museums both locally and nationally to identify and encourage innovative works focusing on lesser-known and overlooked objects and images.

For more information about submitting, please click here for their Submissions guidelines.

Liberty State Fictions Writers is now accepting Workshop Proposals for their 2019 Conference

Hey! Are you an expert on something? A writer with plotting/characterization/genre tips up your sleeve? Have knowledge you’re just itching to disseminate? Then by ALL MEANS YOU NEED TO SUBMIT! Not to a publisher (not now anyway!) But to Liberty State Fiction Writers, a tri-state multi-genre fiction writers organization who’s looking for presenters for their 10th Annual Writers Conference in March 2019 in beautiful Iselin, New Jersey! Submit your Workshop proposals here, and spread the wealth–of knowledge, that is. (Though you can send me money anytime. I’m a starving artist, after all.)

Sorry. Have vacation brain.

Yes, that’s the beach in the background. I thought it was appropriate. Because that’s where I am, Yuengling in hand, not thinking about the book I have to finish, or that classes start one week from today. I’ll be thinking about that all sooner or later.  For now, fingers in ears and lalalalalalalalalalalalalalala…

Okay, my brain be like…

August is the cruelest time of year. If come just off of July, a tentative kind of month as far as summer is concerned, with the real start of it on Independence Day. But by August you’re fully into the swing of it, you have three-quarters of your tan and you’ve completely forgotten what socks feel like, you’re way into fresh tomatoes and peaches and sitting outside for dinner. You’ve gotten used to sleeping with just a sheet over you, mosquito bites, how good that cold bottle of brew feels in your hand. You can’t get enough ice cream, swimming, summer blockbusters, cricket chirps at night and early sunrises in the morning. But if you’re a teacher, or a college professor like me, you know these things are just there to taunt you, exclude you, set you on the outside looking in. Because if teaching is your chosen profession, you can kiss all these things adios by mid-month. Because by that time you’re already neck-deep into the brain-frying task of the dreaded CLASS PREP!

“Teachers get the whole summer off.” HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!! You know what I’m doing now? It’s not laying on the beach, that’s for damn sure. What I’m doing now, by the very act of writing this is slacking from what I’ve been doing for the last week–interminable reading, lesson plans, website updating, essay prompt preparation, yadda-von-fucking-yadda. And if you teach college, you have the equally interminable Pre_Class week, where you have Online Training, Orientations, Departmental Meetings, College Assembly, Convocation, etc. etc. etc. ewwch, arrgguuuh!

Okay, gotta go. My Blackboard site is screaming for my attention because it goes live in ONE WEEK. “Teachers get the whole summer off.” Oh man–I’m cryin’!

Ruminations on a Maxfield Parrish summer night

I love Maxfield Parrish. He is and always has been one of my favorite illustrators and artists. I love his vibrant, saturated colors and the visual depth of his landscapes, his use of perspective and the playful humanistic qualities he gives to each of his subjects. I often think of him when the evening sky is awash with stark color after a storm. The blue is most likely a colbalt used often in Parrish’s work, and I loved this particular shade of his even before I knew it was a thing. It is a blue that says many things to me–of the variations of nature, of a kind of impishness, of the joy that being all-in with life can bring. Maxfield Parrish’s art, because of its sheer volume, variation, and detail, also says to me he must have enjoyed the creation of it immensely. What a luscious life he must have lived, reveling in it.

I think of Parrish in the context of a talk I attended just the other week, between a writer of some renown and an editor from a major publishing house. He was asked what advice he could give the attendant audience of writing students, especially when they’re feeling the full brunt of the pressure to publish. He said first and foremost to enjoy this early time in their career when the flush of discovery and learning is still fresh, and learn to cultivate it throughout your writing life. But more than anything, you need to enjoy the process, because if you don’t, it’ll show in your work and you’ll be doomed to ordinariness. And you’ll spend a whole lot of time being miserable.

Fine advice to always keep running in the background, no matter what discipline you create your art in.  Especially on a soft, summer Maxfield Parrish night as this.

Oh goodie, it’s International Cat Day

Do I have cats. Three at the present. Don’t judge me, only one was actually voluntarily acquired. The other two acquired me and the husband, just barged right in and decided to stay. You see, with cats, it’s not as if you have a choice. Even when they love you they will always leave you flat for a) food, b) a warm spot, c) scratchies. You see, they’re not really bad, they’re just drawn (to everything else) that way.

Saturday by the River with Marisa

Saturdays are usually writing events for me. If I’m not creating my own genius, I’m at Liberty State Fiction Writers co-presiding over our meetings and seminars, or I’m disseminating my vast mental compendium of professorial writing tips to freshman and graduate learners alike. But to stay in this literary game, whether as instructor or practitioner, the savvy writer needs to continually update their literary toolbox. And there’s no better way to do that, after the manuscript is finished, proofread, and polished, than going where the industry professionals are. 

Might I recommend the second Author-Preneur Workshop by the Navesink River on October 13, 2018, in beautiful Red Bank, NJ.  This event is an all-day multilayered interactive workshop with presentations by  Literary Agent Marisa A. Corvisiero, Esq., her Corvisiero Literary Agency colleagues, and other key industry professional guests dedicated to an author’s success.

View of the Navesink River from the Oyster Point balcony, sigh…

~ 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Saturday, October 13, at The Oyster Point Hotel, Bodman Place, Red Bank, NJ 07701.
~ Phone: 732.759.9175
​~ Conveniently located about one hour from NY City.
​~ Valet parking complimentary.
~ Train Station: Red Bank – North Jersey Coast line located just 5 minutes away.

For all the deets and a Who’s Who of who’s attending, visit the Covisiero Literary Agency.

Lazy Summer Observations

It’s summer and I’m really lazy right now, so I’m reposting this oldie when I was also lazy two years ago. Still pertinent, and I’m still lazy…

Been working hot and obsessively developing  another project the last few weeks. When I do this I so live in my head I’m apt to leave lights on or subsist on string cheese and blueberries because I can eat them with one hand. Because of that I’m giving myself a pass tonight to let my mind wander.  I have too many topics rolling around the fertile landscape of my brain to settle on one, so I’m treating you to a virtual sampler of each. Think of it as the Jones version of the Olive Garden’s Tour of Italy,” except not about chain restaurant Italian food or really anything to do with food at all. Please don’t ask me to explain…

~ Why is it harder to write in the summer when it should be easier? Okay, I”m a college professor, right? And I “theoretically” have the summer off (except for the summer class I’m teaching, which really is cake next to my usual load). So my brain should be my own (mostly), and I should be able to sail through what I’m working on, producing so many pages a day I’d best keep a fire extinguisher near my desk. Wrong! Phuque moi! Could it be the sun shining through my window? The fact I have no schedule? The lure of the beach? Distraction by a shiny object? Or I’m still trying to get to know my characters? Hmm…I going to have to think about that one. Where’s the string cheese?

~ You can lose weight on summer fruit. (All right; I lied about the food reference, but here’s living proof I write by the seat of my pants.) I live in the heart of the South Jersey farm belt, and you can’t drive more than a couple of miles without either passing a farm or a farm stand. This morning I happened to visit the latter, where I purchased tomatoes (early, but there’s nothing like a Jersey tomato!), cukes, blueberries (another iconic Jersey crop), cantaloupe and peaches, both yellow and white. Lately I’ve been gorging on berries and melons and cherries, instead of the usual snacky-type foods, and in the past month I’ve lost seven pounds! Of course, this may have something to do with the 1725 calories I’ve been allowing myself to eat, the half-hour of daily exercise, and the frequent swims in the ocean BUT! I have had more than a couple Bacchanalia events and let me tell you, the Yuengling hasn’t been lonely!

~ Beer tastes better in summer. That’s all I got. Any other commentary on that topic would be redundant.

~ Socks suck in summer.  I haven’t worn a pair of socks since, oh…probably early May. I hate the fricking little cotton casings anyway–hate the way they bunch up under your instep, hate the indentations they make on your shins, hate how the heels always wear out when the rest of the sock can go for another 10,000 miles. But MOST of all I HATE folding them. Hate! Hate! Hate! Just sayin’.

~ I love the sound of birdsong at dusk. The sun has set, the western sky is stained red, outside a soft breeze is blowing and you can finally shut off the A.C. and let in some fresh air. You venture out on your porch or you open your car window, or maybe you’re out for a walk and there in the bushes, the trees or on an overhead wire is a whip-poor-will or a mockingbird or who knows what kind of bird, only that their song is lovely, a tiny gratis pleasure on a soft summer night. What else can you possibly need?

Chameleon Submissions

The number one thing an emerging writer needs to do is finish the book before they could even think about putting it out for sale. And when I mean finish, I mean the book needs to be the best it can be. Definitely NOT first draft, but all the plot holes worked out, characters real, breathing and transformed at the end, conflict apparent and resolved, and a satisfying conclusion. After that, the book needs to be edited and proofread (edited means all those items I just mentioned worked out, whereas proofread means no grammatical, spelling, or formatting errors). Then and only than can you think about submitting it to an agent or an editor for publication. Sounds logical, right? But there are some authors out there that take that concept and think in the inverse. And that, my dears, is never going to get you what you want.

There are some new writers that troll such sites as Manuscript Wish List or MSWL to see what agents or editors are looking for. Or toss an idea out there to Twitter pitch parties like #PitMad without even having started the manuscript. Often when writers do this they’re testing the waters, looking to see what agents and/or editors are looking for, then writing a book to those specifications. Bad idea! Because then you’re not writing in a genre or sub-genre you’re adept at and interested in –you’re writing to the market. And when you’re good at writing gritty adult detective fiction and write  dystopian middle-grade instead well…you just may come out with the literary equivalent of finger painting–a hopelessly amateur attempt.

Now, I’m not saying a writer can’t change genres. Some authors write in several. But writing a different genre to branch out and expand your skills and scope is quite different than simply writing to what you hope will sell.  You’re not looking at writing as a craft to be honed and polished. You’re looking at the book you produce as product.  Reminds me of an author talk I was at once where they referred to their novels as units. Writing like that is only going to make you one thing — mediocre.

Look, we all want to sell, be a New York Times bestseller reaping accolades and royalties we need a Brinks truck to drive home from the bank. But writing to market is not the way to do it. You do it by writing the best book you can. If you do, the accolades–and the royalty checks–will have to run to catch up with you.

Seriously Snark

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