Write Despite

The write-20-minutes-a-day-for-365-days-come-hell-or-high-water challenge

Archive for the month “March, 2013”

Our First Guest Blog! Meet Writer Adrienne Kerman

I’m a writer. Like most writers, I’ve never actually written a book and I probably never will. I jokingly say I’m too ADHD to write an entire book … and that might actually be true. I think and write in bits and pieces … an article painting a piece of my day in vibrant swipes of color, or a blog entry detailing a bit of a harrowing experience in the harshest black and white.

As the mother of teenaged twin sons, I often write about parenting issues … the joys, the toys, the very smelly boys. For almost two years now I’ve been writing a parenting column for Boston area Patch sites.

You know what that means?

It means that for two years I completely chronicled the ridiculousness that is this parent’s life, and the pure beauty that is this parent’s life.

It means that I’ve produced a very tall stack of descriptively documented chapters in my children’s lives.

Why, some people might even call that a … book.

Take THAT, ADHD!

But I’m executively dysfunctional, which means I work best if someone else provides the structure. It’s why I have a day job in a professional environment that comes complete with detailed policies and procedures already outlined in neat little handbooks with convenient tables of contents; Microsoft Outlook Calendar already installed on my computer; and assistance with the administrative organization.

Write Despite provides that same structure for my writing. Twenty minutes a day is not overwhelming or overflowing. I can commit to that. I did commit to that, and it helps me consistently produce and honor deadlines.

Note From Write Despite: We’re so glad to have helped bring about some amazing writing, like this piece from Adrienne’s Moms Talk column, posted on Massachusetts area Patch sites. (Grab a tissue.)

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The Sweet Spot

If you’re agent-hunting or trying to sell a novel these days, you may have stumbled across this term: The Sweet Spot. It’s marketing speak for the niche where “literary fiction” intersects with “commercial fiction.” I translate this as good, serious writing that will also have broad appeal and potentially better sales.

At least that’s what I think. The challenge is that the Sweet Spot can be pretty damn elusive. What one agent/reader/publisher deems “sweet,” another calls “sour.” Of course writing for any niche has drawbacks. Why, I wonder, do so many editors believe that so-called “women’s fiction” must feature only female protagonists? Last time I checked, women like getting inside a man’s head, too.

The old advice from my writing professors (and a couple of really savvy high school teachers) comes back to me when I encounter the sub-genre/niche confusion of the marketplace. Write the story that you want to tell. Tell the story that feels urgent and true.  All the conventions are up for grabs in the service of telling a good story. Speak from the heart, engage the brain, and you won’t go wrong.  Oh, and good luck.

–Karen

genre

 

The Liebster Award

liebster-award

Okay, this was just plain fun. And kinda hard. And a lot of work.

And fun!

Thanks to a couple of lovely bloggers for nominating us for the Liebster Award.  Here’s how it works:

1. Thank the Liebster Blog presenter who nominated you and link back to their blog.  Thanks to Leanne Dyck’s  The Sweater Curse and to Gratitude Equation

2. Post 11 facts about yourself, answer the 11 questions you were asked and create 11 questions for your nominees.  See below.

3. Nominate 11 blogs of 200 followers or less who you feel deserve to be noticed and leave a comment on their blog letting them know they have been chosen.  See below.

4. Display the Liebster Award logo.  See above.

Here we go!

At age 8, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Cathy: An actress.

Karen: A veterinarian.

Are you what you wanted to be at age 8?

Cathy: No.

Karen: No. 

Favorite piece of art in your home–describe, please!

Cathy: An oil painting by my uncle, painted of my grandfather. He is fishing the banks of the Narrows Reservoir in Giles County, Virginia. You see him from the back, hands in the pockets of a rumpled old coat, can of bait beside him. Every rock and pebble at his feet is rendered in intricate reds and browns, and the rushing current of the blue-green water can give you chills.

Karen: Metallic artwork of flock of sandpipers—it’s a wall-hanging.

Who or what encouraged you to start blogging?

Cathy: Karen!

Karen: Cathy!

What is the best meal you’ve ever cooked?

Cathy: I make a mean chicken piccata that even my kiddos will eat.

Karen: Chicken Francaise in white wine sauce. It’s great every time.

If someone came up to you tomorrow and said, “Here’s a plane ticket to wherever you want to go for the next month,” where would you go?

Cathy: Paris. (But if I get to be there a whole month, can’t I travel all over Europe, please?)

Karen: Ireland.

What is the best poem you’ve ever read?

Cathy: So hard! I’ll just pick my favorite, which has always been T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

Karen: The Wellspring Collection by Sharon Olds

When was the last time you stepped outside your comfort zone, and how did you do so?

Cathy: January 1, when we began doing Write Despite. Everything about it has been a step outside my zone, from forcing myself to write each day to helping create an online platform, to navigating and developing a deep love for Twitter. And it’s been awesome.

Karen: Ballroom dance class at our church. I just relaxed and had a blast.

If you had to live without coffee or wine, which would it be?

Cathy: Coffee!

Karen: Wine.

What is your favorite article of clothing you own, and why?

Cathy: Ugh. I hate my clothes. But a good pair of jeans (mid-rise, boot cut, please) is a pleasure. Because jeans make me human.

Karen: Green cable-knit turtleneck sweater. It’s warm and comforting and looks great.

How do you relieve stress?

Cathy: Wine. (See #9 above.)

Karen: Yoga or exercise at the gym.

11 Random Facts About Karen:

1. I talk to myself…way too much.

2. Bad table manners drive me crazy. No one wants to hear you gulp.

3. I’d rather take a walk in the woods than do almost anything else.

4. I love crows—the bigger and more disruptive the better. I find them endlessly entertaining.

5. I had a crush on Al Gore in the ‘90s.

6. I have a fear of heights.

7. I watch very little TV. I don’t even have the premium cable channels.

8. I love regional fiction set in New England.

9. I love the cello.

10. I’ve been accused of having the sense of humor of an eight-year-old boy. It’s kind of true.

11. I think Morrissey’s version of “Moon River” totally beats Andy Williams’ take.

11 Random Facts About Cathy:

1. I am inexplicably obsessed with Paul Simon. (The singer, not the dead politician.)

2. Also Sweet Frog frozen yogurt—Dulce de Leche, hello?

3. I hate overhead lights. But…

4. I hate rooms without overhead lights. (Hey, when you have to find something, you need them.)

5. I re-read The Great Gatsby nearly every summer.

6. My best friend has been my best friend since the day my parents brought me home from the hospital. (Thank God.)

7. At age 13, I mercilessly begged my parents to sell my bed and put a hammock in my room instead. They refused. (Thank God.)

8. I freeze nearly all the time, and can’t wait to retire to Florida where I can lie in the sun until I burst into flames.

9. I once owned a dog that could ring the doorbell, and a parakeet that could fake sneeze just like my mother.

10. I’m the only person I know who can’t stand The Big Bang Theory. But…

11. I host True Blood parties every Sunday night at my house in the summer. (Drink of choice? Dirty martinis—and no, not bloody marys.)

 Questions for others:

1. What’s your favorite horror movie?

2. How much sleep do you get at night?

3. What’s the best thing about being you?

4. What’s the hardest thing about blogging?

5. What’s the best meal you ever had?

6. What’s your biggest regret?

7. What or who is the love of your life?

8. What are you most proud of?

9. How much time do you spend on Facebook every week?

10. Favorite Saturday Night Live cast member?

11. Pet peeve?

Our Picks:

http://whoyoucallinghousewife.blogspot.com/

http://kimhambricart.blogspot.com/

http://kirstenlopresti.wordpress.com/

http://kittyhietala.wordpress.com/

http://writeinseattle.wordpress.com

http://pencilgrub.blogspot.com/

http://litandscribbles.wordpress.com/

http://invisiliz.com/

http://aprilloves2write.wordpress.com/

http://www.bridgettelacy.com/blog.htm

http://kuumba.wordpress.com/

 

It’s Not You, It’s Me—And Other Forms of Rejection

Springtime, and I’ve been going through old papers here at my house, trying to decide what to toss and keep. One file drawer holds nothing but fiction—my stories, ideas for stories, friends’ stories, handouts of stories from past teachers…and one big, fat manila envelope marked Rejections.

Why did I keep them? Hey, in college, I knew someone who actually papered a wall with rejections, and I’ve taken the same sort of pride in mine. Most of them are standard form letters, but some editors wrote personal notes, and I have to give them credit for scribbling a few thoughts down for me. Especially the ones from high-brow pubs, like The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s, Esquire, and a whole slew of literary journals: Crescent Review, Story, Grand Street, Crazyhorse, Glimmer Train (I would still commit a misdemeanor to get into Glimmer Train). And then more obscure ones like Bottomfish, Common Touch, and Dodobobo (?). Yes, I spelled it right.

The editor of that last one sent me a very lengthy, handwritten rejection, which ended with, “Your story is too long. Do you have anything shorter?”

It took you nearly two pages to call me long-winded?

Another said, “We were very interested in your story and had hoped to use it—but found we couldn’t schedule it in a reasonable time.”

Schedule it? Hey, no rush. I would wait for, um, ever.

A third said my story was “Impressive. It came CLOSE. I especially liked the ending. I’m sure you will publish this story, as I nearly did.”

Okay, that one was just cruel.

My favorite was the one pictured here.

rejection envelope 001

This is the original envelope I mailed a story in. Back in those days, I would send printed pages with enough return postage for the story’s return, along with any comments. And I would turn down the corners of a couple of pages in the middle, and near the end (oh, so tiny folds, as not to be noticed). That way, if the story came back, I could see if it the “seal” had been broken, and verify whether it had actually been read. (Anyone else do this?)

Anyway, there was apparently a team of editors at this particular journal, and they all read my story, then passed around my envelope and wrote their “votes” on it—each stating why it was good or bad. Some additional votes were written on scraps of paper that fluttered out when I pulled the pages from the envelope. Now that is a memorable rejection.

Only a few of my stories actually got published—one after getting rejected 63 times. My Rejections folder contains 117 letters—my Acceptance folder six. But I can’t allow myself to part with any of them, since they are evidence of the fact that I actually did do some writing, and spent a fair amount of time working to send that writing out into the world. When I look back some day, maybe I’ll at least be able to say I tried.

Most of my rejections these days are from agents. A few are standard form letters, and some actually give me the equivalent of what I’d guess a handwritten note would be these days—a personal apology and best of luck with some other agent (read: sucker) who might have lower standards.

But I’ll keep trying, keep writing, and no doubt keep getting rejected. It’s all part of the life we’ve chosen, right? And if I ever get my office clean, I may just start putting up that wallpaper.

–Cathy

Counting My Blessings

One nice sentence that cuts to the heart of things and pushes the story forward is worth more than ten pages of crap that’s going to end up on the cutting room floor. That’s what I’ve been telling myself lately, because my new book is coming slowly. We’re talking glacial pace here. I’m not cranking it out the way I did my first one. One reason is I’ve been struggling for time to write. The other is my process this time around seems to be more deliberate.  I’m not chasing every strand that strikes my fancy. I have a better feel, right off the bat, for what fits and what doesn’t fit into this story.

Why? I can’t really say. It’s the material, I guess. I’ve got a sharper, more narrow focus. I have a better understanding of my main characters and what they’re after. And that’s a lucky thing, a small blessing.

This snippet of the sound advice novelist Lisa Wingate recently shared via the always-inspiring Women’s Fiction Writers blog is also helping me stay on the narrative straight-and-narrow.  Lisa writes what’s popularly called “women’s fiction.” She also writes for the “Christian market.” But I think this advice transcends genre:

“Watch for overbalance of narrative in your writing. Nothing slows down the pace of a story like huge patches of narrative. Narrative produces pages with big, blocky paragraphs that read slowly, and that tend to “tell” rather than “show”. When possible, work story elements into dialog, action, reaction, and short thought sequences, rather than using narrative. For example, rather than describing the main street of your town, have your character walk down Main, greet a neighbor or two, and reflect on a few random childhood memories of people/places. Be careful that you don’t slide down the slippery slope of having characters engage in meaningless chatter designed only to dump information to the reader, but always seek opportunities to work details in naturally during character interactions. Remember that body language speaks volumes, too.”

–Karen

Thank You, Literary Mama!

Please see Cathy’s article (a reflection on writing tips from a college professor), kindly posted by Literary Mama yesterday.

Working For A Living

All the fiction writers I know also hold down paying jobs — the kind that come with salaries you can actually live on. Some work because they want to. Others, because they have to. Either way, most of them occasionally resent the time and energy work steals  from their writing lives. It does sap needed brain space. There’s no denying it.

But in the spirt of viewing the glass as half-full, let’s dwell instead on the ways our work-a-day jobs have helped our writing. Let’s share the writing fodder we’ve gleaned from the work world. I’ll go first. Over the course of my years in the workforce, I have met characters — eccentrics and psychos and sadists (and of course some terrific folks, too) — whom I never could have conjured on my own, at least not without the help of a mind-altering substance and a rabbit hole  to tumble into. Their craziness has helped inform a few of the more memorable characters in my fiction. Thank you, former colleagues.

Now, how about you? Surely you’ve gained something useful in the fictional sense from your job. Share…but don’t say anything that could get you fired. The Man’s got ears.

–Karen

Unwelcome Distractions

So tonight I’m sitting here with a laptop waiting for my daughter to finish her piano class. And this man asks me what I’m working on.

“You’re not writing a novel, are you?” he says with a laugh.

And stupidly, oh so stupidly, I tell him that, yes, in fact, I am.

And of course, that was the end of my writing session. He took this as his cue to regale me with his own failed attempts at writing, and what conspired against him, and before the 45-minute lesson was up, I had learned about his ex-wife (unsupportive), his current wife (needy), and his three grown children (ingrates). Not that I didn’t find it all interesting, and the man perfectly pleasant. I did. But I will now have to sit in my car to write for the next six weeks of piano lessons unless I grow a backbone between now and then and find a polite way to tell him to, eh, leave me alone, thank you, please.

And that won’t happen. Because not only am I a wimp but, I have to admit, I didn’t fight all that hard to return to my writing anyway. Because isn’t it much less work to have a conversation with a stranger, even a TMI one, than to write This Damn Book? (By the way, I have decided to call this novel TDB forevermore.)

I often think about Harry Crews’s famous quote:

Harry Crews   “If you wait until you got time to write a novel, or time to write a story, or time to read the hundred thousands of books you should have already read—if you wait for the time, you will never do it. ‘Cause there ain’t no time; world don’t want you to do that. World wants you to go to the zoo and eat cotton candy, preferably seven days a week.”

There used to be a writing group near me called “Vacuuming the Cat,” so named because a writer will think up nearly any excuse not to write, even sucking the wayward fur off a feline with a Hoover.

So given these examples, I assume I’m not alone in my willful distractedness. It’s hard not to let the disruptions in, even harder to return again and again to that little world you’ve created and make it shine, and breathe, and say something worthwhile.

But I’ll keep at it. To hell with cotton candy and cats. Let’s just tuck in, my friends, and endure, and get this done.

–Cathy

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