Monday, December 31, 2012

Looking back, thinking ahead. No regrets, please!

Happy New Year, writers!  Perhaps you'll spend some time today thinking about the writing year that has passed, and the one ahead. I hope so.  And I hope you do so with some satisfaction, and with anticipation.

Many of us are in the looking back/thinking ahead mode, it seems, as I've already received several newsletters today from fellow writers and publishers on that theme.

I've been a subscriber to Erika Dreifus's monthly Practicing Writer newsletter for at least five years now, and I am honored that she featured me as a guest writer in today's newsletter, with an adapted version of my *I Did It List* post.  If you are not yet a subscriber to her excellent newsletter, here's a link to the online version. Read - and sign up!

My own newsletter went out  a few days ago, and likewise, you can find it online if you are not already a subscriber (and if you want to subscribe, just click on the link at bottom).

See you next year!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers, December 21, 2012 Edition

> My well-read friend Chris led me to BookDrum, where one could spend hours. The beautifully rich site offers a panoramic experience of all that surrounds a book. I'm not explaining it very well. From the site: "..companion to the books we love, bringing them to life with immersive pictures, videos, maps and music."  Plus author background, film notes, reviews, summary, setting info, glossary, more. Visit. Click on a book (classics to contemporary). Don't look at the clock.

> Vaughn Roycroft on "Surviving the Full Force of a Manuscript Critique" at Christi Craig's blog.

> Lee Gutkind at the New York Times Draft blog, on "Three R's of Narrative Nonfiction." 

> Jenny Rough contemplates writers, perseverance, struggle and faith.

> California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera , with a Poem for Newtown, "Little Ones We Carry You" (and several response poems), at the University of California/Riverside news site.

> Meghan Ward on "20 Great Places to Publish Personal Essays."

> BookPatrol with a great graphic and the good news that America's largest libraries are growing.

> Annie Evett on why it's a good idea to keep calm and just keep submitting.  I like her math.

> I knew I wanted one for myself, but I'm not completely sure for whom I bought four more copies today of Anne Lamott's slim new book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.  Like this interviewer, I'm attracted I guess to the idea of an irreverent approach to the simplicity, and power, of praying as a personal, possibly idiosyncratic act.

> Reminder: Don't let your writing year end without creating at least a few entries -- on paper, in your head -- for your personal 2012 * I Did It List* (which I explain in the post immediately prior to this one).

> Finally, for some levity,  a compilation of poorly worded, proofread-by-dummies, hilarious or embarrassing real headlines over at Freakonomics.

Have a great weekend, and good wishes for those celebrating holidays.

Monday, December 17, 2012

It's Beginning to Look Like *I Did It* Time

It's mid-December, almost time for me to begin thinking about The I Did It List – my small act of defiance against all the emotionally upsetting lists we humans tend to mentally make as the year draws to a close: the one that ticks off the things we failed to do all year.  We didn't lose weight, clear out the basement, organize the photos, cook better meals, take that trip, call that old friend.

As writers we do our own version of the miss list – we take ourselves to task about the books or chapters or essays not completed, the conference not attended, the acceptances not received, the work not submitted, the agent not contacted, the class not taken, the revision left undone. We tend to see our writing year as a finite lot of things not yet achieved instead of a valuable step along an infinitely curvy road.

Give yourself a break. Please.

Write your own writer's version of The I Did It List.  

Make it a good one.  Please. Write down everything that's happened in your writing life in 2012 that's been good, maybe even great.  At least positive. Little steps accomplished. Medium goals reached. Medium ones broached.

What did you do that moved your writing life ahead?  What did you get done? Who did you help with their writing goals?  Were you published someplace that meant something to you? Did you begin a project?  Finish something, anything?  Did someone you respect say something encouraging to you about your work?  Were you invited to participate in a writing project you are pleased to be involved in?  Did you finally "get" some aspect of writing craft you'd been stymied on before?  Did you write more regularly? With more conviction?  Did you?

In my own I Did It List, I include all the small and the big things. Why not? The tangible and the intangible. The noteworthy and public, the private. Not only does everything add up, it's all part of the whole. Without a lot of small "I did it's" the larger ones can't have transpired. That's how I choose to see it.

I know you did something, many things good for your writing life in 2012. You know you did too. Write it down.

That's the challenge.  Some time between now and December 31, write your own "I Did It List" all about your writing year.  

You can even get started now, and share one "I Did It" in comments.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Seat at the Table of Alone and Still.

I rarely think of myself as more productive than the next writer, and certainly I'm never convinced that I deserve a seat at the table. Most days, I'm certain my productivity cannot possibly keep pace with my unrealistic expectations. But I try to maintain a minimal level of confidence that what I'm doing has some merit; some days that's enough, and those are the days when I hole up, work in blessed absolute silence, ignore the clatter and lure of phones and social media, turn down invitations to meet for coffee or lunch. Me. Alone. A pen or keyboard.  That is all, and that is more than enough.

The other days, well -- those are the days when I go out. To the bank, supermarket, shoe store. For breakfast, coffee, lunch. To the post office, gas station, Target. To the music store to get my son a new cello string. To the municipal building to pay the water or tax bill. To anywhere, away from the silence. Because the silence is what I must fill up – with words, with writing.

I love silence. I love when silence feels like solitude. I love being alone. But when the writing isn't going well, and if the editing clients and writing students don't need me, then the silence isn't solitude, but condemnation, criticism, disapproval; vast and unfilled, yawning and beckoning and mocking all at once. So I leave it.

Some days, I don't choose to leave it, but life needs attending: Meetings. Appointments. Travel. The thing is, no matter why I leave the silence for the distraction and activity and noise and sometimes the necessity of errands or shopping or meetings, there's still a space in my head that represents that quiet, the silence, that writing place.  And I'm always trying to fill it. Silas House described it beautifully in his New York Times essay last week, about a writer's relationship to the art of being still, no matter where, no matter what.

Today I'm in the quiet silence all morning. This afternoon, and tonight, I'll move out into the noise – banking business, a son's dermatologist appointment, a client's holiday party.

I'll be there, but still.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Care for a Critique? Place your bid. (Updated)

Some time ago, I was fortunate to receive a patient, thoughtful, and helpful critique on a very long essay, from a writer/editor I admired. I wasn't enrolled in a course and I hadn't hired her. Instead, I "won" a bid for her services in an auction set up to raise funds for a charity. 

At the time, I would not have been able to afford her services; in fact at the time, I wasn't even actively looking for help with that particular writing project.  But when I saw the listing, I put in a bid and was so glad I did.

That's why I decided to join with Publishing Gives Back, a grassroots auction effort, set up by BookEnds, a New Jersey literary agency. They've corralled more than three dozen agents, publishing house editors, freelance editors, and others to offer services to the highest bidder, to raise funds that will help restore the state after Hurricane Sandy's damage.

Most of the offerings -- full and partial critiques of query letters, synopses, chapters, and manuscripts -- are for works of fiction, in many different genres. But mine is for the nonfiction writer: a critique of a query letter, synopsis and the first 25 pages of a nonfiction manuscript, and an in-person coffee date (if the winning bidder is local; otherwise it's a phone call).

Traffic is picking up on the site, but there are plenty of services that are still relative "steals". Beyond the manuscript critiques, on the block are a consultation on cover design, editorial phone consults, and in-person meetings at upcoming writing conferences.

Would love it if you'd pass this along - to anyone, but especially to other Garden State writers!

Update: The auction is now closed 12/11). Thanks to those who bid on all the items. Looking forward to working with the writer who won my offering.