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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Reverb10, Day 3: Things that keep my pen moving

Prompt: Writing. What do you do each day that doesn't contribute to your writing -- and can you eliminate it?

Prompt Author: Leo Babauta

I realized today that I confused the writing prompt for day two with the prompt for day three. Blame it on how late it was last night when I sat down to write, and the activity I had been engaged in all night. So I am answering yesterday's prompt today.

It is a very grey Friday. It rained all night, and has been drizzling on and off all day today. Perfect weather to stay in and write! I finished the first draft of my first official article since arriving on the west coast and deciding to pursue my writing professionally. It felt good to finish it and send it off, but I am actually looking forward to getting it back with notes on things that need reworking. I have been reading a lot about the craft of writing, and how important learning to edit your own work well is. This week I read the Ken Follett's Materclass, which had some very interesting reflections on the writing process. I just read Ken's book Fall of the Giants this past week, and was thoroughly impressed with the depth of research that goes into his books. I had never read anything by Ken Follett before, and I wish I had found his books earlier. His writing style is completely different from my own, but he is a master of the craft of writing. The tips he shares in his Masterclass are thought provoking and practical.

As a writer who is just trying to launch her career, I have been feeling rather overwhelmed by the amount that I have to learn. I did my undergraduate degree in creative writing, with an emphasis in poetry, but I turned down the offer of a place in an MFA program to go do my Master's degree in Island Studies, so my creative writing has taken a backseat to academic and other forms of writing. Having written mostly poetry in college, I am not familiar with the many guidelines that help writers of fiction or non-fiction to hone their craft.

When I first decided I wanted to focus on my writing, late this summer, I went out and bought a number of magazines that I enjoy reading, and spent hours studying them. My goal was to take notes on what kinds of articles these magazines accepted, whether they accepted submissions from new writers, and how someone like myself, whose publishing experience is limited to academic articles, organic agriculture policy analysis documents and the text for my previous company's website. I started with the Magazine Islands, because I did my MA in Island Studies, and have a great love for Island cultures and environments. I checked a pile of books out of the library on the topic of writing magazine articles, and the process of writing proposals for editors. I came up with an idea that sounded like it would make an interesting article, and sent off a proposal. I read that some magazines like to receive proposals by email, and others will not look at them unless they come in hard copy. The library books told me that the magazine should tell you which they prefer, but unfortunately Islands did not, so I had to just take a leap of faith. I wrote up what seemed to me to be a fairly strong proposal, and mailed it off.

I had read that you should never submit the same article to more than one magazine, because editors would not want to publish an article knowing that it had been submitted to another magazine simultaneously. I had also read that it could take three weeks or more to get a response, so after sending off my proposal, I waited, and waited, and waited. I never got a response. Not even a note acknowledging receipt of my proposal and telling me that I was not experienced enough to write for their magazine. Before sending off my proposal, I had read a lot about how many rejections new writers get before they get one acceptance. I thought I had steeled myself for the letdown, but after three weeks with no response at all I realized how discouraged I felt after having sent out only one proposal. It is hard to put all that thought and work into something and get nothing in response.

Over the last few months I have learned a lot more about writing novels and non-fiction and articles, but I still feel like I am just scratching the surface of what I need to know to improve my writing skills. I have been finding that there are certain things that help me to stay encouraged and focused -- to keep going even when I feel like I may never cross paths with an editor who wants to print one of my pieces. I know the subject of this entry is supposed to be things that undermine my writing process, and I can mention some of those too, but I find that the biggest challenge as a new writer is feeling discouraged, so finding sources of encouragement is key to triumphing over any obstacles that I encounter in my path.

One thing that I have found helpful is to keep reading books that inspire me. I have become intimately acquainted with the library since arriving in California. I have a list of books on hold that I add to every week, and sometimes four or five arrive at once, which leaves me three weeks to read four or more books. So I have to read every day. I look in the newspaper to find what books are on the bestseller lists and I read reviews on Amazon.com and then order books that sound interesting to me. I find that tactic seems to work well, although I do come across the occasional book that puts me to sleep. I also find that some authors list books that they found inspiring in their books, so I have a long list of books in my journal that I turn to when I am running low on inspiring reading material. In addition to fueling my own imagination, I find that reading about the authors of books I especially liked is very helpful. Reading the life story of Abraham Verghese, after I read his novel Cutting for Stone was fascinating. And reading about Ken Follett's writing process, and how many books he had to write before he actually published a best-seller reassured me that not succeeding immediately does not mean I never will succeed.

Another thing that I find helpful is to subscribe to other people's blogs. Reading well-written blogs challenges me to improve my own blog, and gives me new ideas into things that work well or that take away from a blog. For some reason, I especially enjoy subscribing to blogs written by women, maybe because it makes me feel like I am writing in a nurturing, encouraging community. Just today, for example, I came across a blog called Kikolani.com. The entry that interested me most was a list of other inspiring female bloggers. You can check the list out here.

I have been going to quite a lot of readings lately -- mainly poetry, but sometimes fiction. I am working on writing a novel at the moment -- very shyly working on writing a novel-- and I want to get as much exposure as I can to novelists, and to hear what they have to say about their writing process.

Another thing I did recently was sign up to a few different sites. I joined 750words.com, which sends you prompts every day to write at least 750 words. And I also joined Reverb10.com, which sends me prompts every day for the month of December to encourage me to reflect on the year behind and prepare for another full and exciting year in 2011. Joining these groups is a small step, but sometimes all it takes is that extra reminder to make me sit down and get writing every day.

And finally, I have started trying to get out in the natural world a bit more. I find that the natural world is an enormous source of inspiration for my writing. I have lived so intimately with the natural environment for the past six years in Canada, and I notice that living in a city now means I am lacking that wealth of inspiration that was so easy to come by living on an island in the Atlantic Ocean. A few weeks ago I went on a guided hike to the Sutter Buttes with a group of complete strangers just to get out of the city. It was one of the best days I have had since arriving here, and I am working on a poem that was inspired by the amazing landscapes of the Sacramento Valley, the rice fields, the birds skimming the surface of the flooded fields, and the volcanic rocks that I began learning about on the hike. I am realizing that if I remain in a city long term, I am going to have to consciously find ways to get out into open natural areas if I want my writing to have an important source of fuel and inspiration.

So I come back to the initial question here at last -- what do I do every day that does not contribute to my writing. I stay in the house too much now that I am not working on a farm, that is one. I sometimes let small letdowns discourage me, and I know I have to come up with creative and effective ways of overcoming this. I do not share my writing with people who are in front of me much. I would like to join a writers group so that I am interacting with other writers who are actually in my own time zone. These are some things I would do well to change.

It is evening now. The light is fading fast. I am heading out to a devotional gathering followed by a board games night with a group of friends, so it is time to close. More tomorrow!

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