These Words, You Will Be Mine

The title of this post was taken from the chorus of R.E.M.’s “Strange Currencies.” The song has nothing to do with writing, but taken out of context could definitely apply to writing:

Today, I read Andi Cumbo-Floyd’s post, “What I Want My Words to Do to You” and it gave me life. In her post, she talks about what drives her to write and to share her writing. She points out that she wants her writing to reach out to readers. Even though fame and fortune might call (and will not be turned away), Cumbo-Floyd says her purpose is to move readers the way she has been moved by others’ writing. She ends her post by saying,

Because it is the stories that matter, not me. Never me. The stories. The way they twist inside us and help us know. 

This post came at a good time for me. The past few weeks I’ve been trying to immerse myself in writing again. Low stakes, no pressure. Just writing and thinking. (I should probably add “reading” in there too, but I feel like I can only work on one thing at a time.) Like I mentioned in “Gimme a Break,” I had been trying to pitch article ideas/essays to several outlets in addition to one academic journal article, and I struck out in outstanding fashion. I got a lot of “this is interesting, but…” emails. Rejection is part of the gig of trying to become a published writer, right? I was trying to roll with the punches. But when I received two rejections back to back (during a week that had its rough patches in general), I felt down, flat on my ass. Knock out.

I remember checking my email one day before class. I was standing at the podium, in front of the classroom, getting ready to teach that evening’s lesson. The students were trickling in, and I was setting up my area. There was still time before 5:30 pm, so I opened my email out of habit and there it was: Rejection #2. Suddenly, I felt lightheaded and couldn’t even think straight. It was time to teach, and I couldn’t even string two sentences together. I wanted to sit down by myself and tell the students to go away. But I had a class to teach.

I admit it: I was looking for some sort of validation in those pitches. I was also looking for employment, considering I had switched from full-time employment to freelance status when I moved to Houston. But mostly validation. (I have had much better luck as an editor than as a writer, for whatever that’s worth.) So the rejections felt personal, even if I know deep down they are not. So I retreated into myself and stopped trying.

Last week I wondered out loud, in tears, “what do I do with the writing?” In other words, why should I write if no one will pay me to write? If editors don’t think my work is good enough for me to get paid? I had a crisis of sorts. I thought my writing was good enough. Was I kidding myself? My husband, the rational one in this scenario, asked me “do you like writing?” I said yes. He reminded me that if I enjoyed writing, maybe that’s enough for now; if I ever grew to dislike writing, I should walk away.

I had a good long ugly cry on the couch. And then I calmed down.

Cumbo-Floyd’s post today shone a little bit of light on the feelings I’ve had the last few weeks. All this time, I wasn’t writing for the money. I have always wrote (outside of the projects for school) because to me it feels like the right thing to do. There’s no other way I express myself better than writing. The world doesn’t make sense to me if I can’t write my way through life. And maybe that’s enough for now.

These words, you will be mine.

Don’t Stop Till You Read Enough (Books)

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I went to Cincinnati last weekend and all I got were more books.

I can never read enough books.

I don’t mean that I am a voracious book reader. When I begin a book, it takes me a while to get into it. I usually need a big chunk of time to start the book so that I can be sufficiently invested in the book to want to pick it up again. I read, and as I read I try to remind myself of details that came before. Wait, what day is it again? Who’s that dude? Where do they live? I’m gonna have to start this paragraph again. I resist the urge to take notes when I read because I want to distance myself from the kind of reading I do when I am working on a research project, and also because I am afraid I will drift off in a tangent and forget about what I was reading in the first place.

I don’t have big chunks of time available to read anymore. I only have little bits here and there, so I end up reading an article, a blog post, a short essay on my phone or my iPad. Adding books to my devices doesn’t help because I drift from long form to short form after a couple of pages. On my iPad I have right now

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction From Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between

Scientific Writing = Thinking In Words

Get a Freelance Life

Coming to My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure, and an Unlikely Bride

Stylish Academic Writing

Of all of these, I’ve gotten farthest in Scientific Writing = Thinking in Words: 22%. And that’s because it’s related to the class I am currently teaching. I’ve only recently allowed myself to stop reading books I don’t like or don’t feel invested in, but all of the above titles are books I find interesting–I just haven’t gotten far enough in them.

Audiobooks help, but not as much as they used to when I had to drive two hours a day to work. I fell in love with some books that way, and felt that familiar urgency to find out what the next chapter held that I used to feel when I read as a teenager. Gone Girl is one of the titles that comes to mind, But now that I work from home and my commute has been reduced to two days a week to a school that’s 25 minutes away, my audiobook listening time is a lot less. In the past few months I’ve downloaded several books:

Pym

The Great Gatsby

The Intuitionist

The Colossus of New York

The Interestings

Stiff

Of those six, I’ve already read three; they were books I wanted to read in audiobook version, so maybe they don’t count?

At the end of the day, who cares how many books I read or don’t? The English major in me.

No matter how many books I buy, how many audiobooks I put on my phone, how many ebooks I put on my iPad, I am not reading enough. The English Major Inside My Head berates me for not taking time to read a book instead of catching up on the articles I saved to Instapaper, for not choosing a book over watching an episode of 30 Rock, for not reading on the plane instead of napping. Reading articles on how to make time for reading don’t help either. The English Major Inside My Head says that’s all bullshit. And it especially doesn’t like that I’ve been spending all of this time in the morning writing and I don’t take time to read.

I wonder where this critical voice came from. But I wish it would shut up already.

Part of me thinks it has to do with the fact that the reason I chose to be an English major was to read more books and study the craft of writing fiction by reading all of these books. Talking about my love for books was an essential part of my personal identity for a long time, similar to how teaching was an essential part of my professional identity. Take for example my Twitter handle: @literarychica And now that I don’t read as much or as often as I used to, I feel weird even claiming that handle. it’s been around for so long that I can’t bring myself to change it, but sometimes it feels like faulty advertising. Like the time I dated someone who said he was disappointed I didn’t read more.

Some days I just want to sit down and read a book. Like today. And then that little voice creeps up and says, “you could if you stopped checking Twitter.” Or if I stopped blogging. Or if I stopped working four different jobs. (It’s a freelance life for us.)

But really? I just have to stop being so hard on myself and just read a book for fun. When did reading books stop being fun? Maybe around the time I started feeling like it was my job to read.

A Writer’s Routine (Or, Why I Didn’t Sign Up For NaNoWriMo)

Lately it goes something like this: every night, before I go to bed, I set two alarms on my iPhone: one for 5:30 am, and one for 5:40 am because depending on how tired I am I might sleep through the first one. Or just ignore it. That’s happened too. But no matter the failure, I still set them up Monday through Friday (sometimes Saturday) so that I can wake up early to write. I may get up at 5:30, or I may get up at 5:55 after staring at the ceiling for a very long time (or at the back of my eyelids). But I eventually get up.

I used to think about it, but not anymore. I used to debate with myself whether I should sleep the extra half-hour and wake up at 6. In fact, I used to wake up at 6 but then I realized I had that half-hour of puttering around in bed, which led me to push back my alarm to 5:30. I sometimes just let myself sleep in, especially if I’ve had an excruciating day before. But for the most part, it happens like clockwork. I flick the white button next to 5:30 am and next to 5:40 am in my iPhone’s alarm settings, so I can wake up and write.

Writer's Desk

Writer’s Desk

There’s no rhyme or reason to the morning, I assure you. On occasion I’ll have breakfast at my desk, like I did this morning. Some mornings there’s coffee. Other days, I force myself to get out of bed, go across my bedroom, out to the hallway, into the living room, over to my office, and in my desk chair—all of this with no thoughts whatsoever in my mind. Sometimes I’ll sit at my desk and putter around for a whole hour on Twitter/Facebook/email (your choice) until I see it’s 6:45 or 7:00 am and I realize I’ll have to get my daughter ready for daycare soon!, and I start typing stuff in a stream-of-consciousness way. And some days I wake up with an idea for a blog post, so I run with it.

Today, for example, I sat here and stared at my desk for a bit, trying to figure out where to start. Last night I decided to start a writing journal, but I didn’t feel like tackling that so early in the day. I didn’t want to do my usual freewriting because lately my freewrites sound more like diary entries than possible ideas for future blog posts. I decided to read some posts from my news reader app on my tablet. I perused some blog posts, caught up on some articles, made a note to myself (“the little details”), and started writing.

I don’t have any major writing projects looming over my shoulder, so my writing in the morning is disjointed. It usually ends up on this blog or on the other blogs I write for. I have yet to sell any pitches, and since pitch writing burned me out I have decided not to do that for a while. You might think I’m giving up on selling pitches and getting my writing published in a mainstream publication; I think of it as recharging my batteries and figuring out if my writing is good enough (interesting enough?) for a broader audience. (Although I can see how it might look like Option #1 because it’s only been less than a year that I’ve been trying this pitching thing.) I miss the big projects though. Yeah, I said it: I miss having big projects to work toward. They give my morning writing direction. On the other hand, I like having my short-term projects: a blog post here, an essay there, a review over here. I give each little project my all, and then in a couple of days I’m back here, looking for a thread to tug on.

This is why I am not doing NaNoWriMo/AcWriMo/NaBloPoWriMo/AnyMo this year: they’re usually product-driven. “At the end of 30 days you should have a…” I don’t say that as a bad thing; it’s just not the thing I’m doing right now. Sure, I have a book in my head that I keep ignoring because supposedly January is when I’m going to start it but really why can’t I just start it now? Not sure. But right now, I’m trying to just write, find a groove.

“Find a groove.” Not even sure what that “groove” is. I wake up every weekday morning and I sit at my desk to write. I’m not pitching ideas for articles. Not anymore. I’m not writing for other blogs. Not all of the time. I’m not writing for the dissertation. Not ever again. But I wake up and I write because I figure that’s what writers do. They show up to work. And write.

Meanwhile, I hope these posts take me somewhere. That someday they’ll reveal some sort of pattern or logic and I’ll finally get a sense of the stories I’m supposed to tell.

Gimme a Break

I took a break because I didn’t want to blog. A couple of Mondays ago I woke up early to write, like I always do, and after a few attempts at starting a blog post I realized, “I really don’t want to write a blog post.” So I didn’t. I wanted to sit with my thoughts, not force anything.

To be honest, the little break came about because I received not one but two rejections in less than a work week’s time right around the date I published my last blog post. I know, rejections are par for the course in academia, in writing, in life. That doesn’t mean the rejections hurt any less. The rejections didn’t dampen my confidence in my abilities as a writer either; in my gut I know I have some good pieces in my repertoire. It just made me wonder about what I am doing as a writer. (Yes, it made me wonder what I am doing wrong, but I realized that might be the wrong question to ask when it comes to putting your writing out there.)

So I stayed away from blogging for a little bit. Somehow, I felt like blogging would be putting pressure on myself to produce when, really, I didn’t feel like it. Also, blogging was starting to feel like a job. Sure, I should treat blogging like a job if I want my writing to reach a broader audience, but I didn’t want to feel like I was always producing, always putting out without putting back in. I thought, no one is telling me when to blog. I’m the boss around here. So I stopped.

What did I realize during the past couple of weeks?

1) I’m trying to do too much at once. Pitching, blogging, looking up references for my writing advice posts, reading to stay current. I know, I know, I should be indefatigable when it comes to my craft; I need to commit to being a writer and hustle all the time if I one day want to publish my writing outside of the blog. Don’t stop the hustle! But I felt like I wasn’t taking the time to digest ideas, to read and think. The race to pitch each week and produce two blog posts each week on top of editing and prepping for class and teaching and all the other craziness I have in my life made me feel like I wasn’t enjoying writing any more. I became a business, man. Not to mention teaching and editing are my main gigs.

2) In the meantime, I felt like I lost sight of what was my thing. What am I good at? In the race to pitch and blog, I wasn’t developing my craft. I was just producing. Even now that I am trying to get back into writing, when I sit down to work I feel a little lost, like I have nothing to hold onto. It’s all foggy up in here.

3) I need to embrace my strong suits. There are some topics that suit me better because I have extensive knowledge about them. If those topics are academic-y, I need to find a way to make them attractive to others, but I also shouldn’t shy away from them. Also, I’m very good at writing the personal stuff. So, writing about my connection to something apparently is more effective than just writing a typical introduction. I’d been trying to step away from that because I thought that was too personal of an approach. Maybe I’ll write more personal essays from now on. My last post is certainly in that vein.

4) Maybe I’ll pitch more personal essays. Not sure who would want them. The subjects I want to talk about are not necessarily news-y, so that’s always tough to sell. A lot of the personal essays I read are on blogs. But if I pitch, I may pitch a personal essay because that seems to be my strong suit. It also seems to be the thing I want to write about.

5) I should use the blog to post works in progress. More writing, less talking about writing? Maybe. I enjoy doing the Friday Free Writing posts. But I need to write more for me. There may be less Friday Free Writing posts–or they’ll at least be less regular.

My plan the next few weeks? Nurture the writer inside me. Let her say what she wants to say, even if it’s not necessarily pitch material. Sometimes all we need to do is just write. Sometimes that’s the hardest thing.

Friday Free Writing #9: So You Hate to Write–Join the Club

I’ve been working with academic writers in some capacity for over eight years. I know what I am up against: I usually work with students who are frustrated, confused, and for the most part too anxious about their writing to enjoy the learning/writing process. “I’m so bad at writing” is a familiar refrain. “I hate writing” is probably the more popular one.

I remembered this when, earlier this week I read a post on Copyblogger titled “Can I Be A Content Marketer if I Absolutely Hate to Write?” (sorry, you need to sign up on their site to see the post, but signing up is free). The title stood out in my email inbox: if you want to communicate with an audience, you’re probably going to want to write something down at some point. And if you’re trying to connect with them? That writing better be solid.

I also received in my inbox an email from The Middle Finger Project, one of my favorite websites out there dispensing advice about how to make your business stand out from the crowd. (Profanity included, if you’re wondering.) This week they launched a new class for folks who want to add more pizzazz to their website writing. One of the lines reads, “Even if you feel like you haven’t got .026 ounces of creativity” which got me thinking, again, about what freaks people out about writing in the first place.

Lots of people hate writing. Just take one look at the Google results if you type “hate writing.” But academics, especially those who are researchers, are in the (unfortunate?) camp of folks who need to write regularly. Sure, you write on Post-Its all the time, but that’s not nearly as painful for an academic as it is to write up their research and submit to a journal. Unless you’re trying to write that article on a Post-It. THAT would be pretty painful too.

DN Lee, one of my tweeps, blogged earlier this week about her troubles with the writing aspect of her career as a scientist.

“My number 1 weakness – my publications. I know pubs matter. I buckle down and write. I sometimes get manuscripts complete. But I just can’t get over whatever hang ups I have with execution – sending manuscripts off to a publishers.”

She later admits in the post that the field work is exciting stuff for her–the write-up is what’s getting to her. I know for a fact she’s not alone: I’ve heard the same thing from economists, social scientists, English majors. Yup, even English majors.

Here’s the thing: I love writing, as you know. I enjoy having to figure out why you use an apostrophe in one scenario and you don’t use it in another. I struggle to remember the difference between i.e. and e.g.–but I’m trying my best to remember it. I think of writing as a puzzle but I also think of it as my preferred mode of expression. If I’m feeling down and out or confused about something? You bet I’m going to write it out and make my way across along that string of words.

I wrote a post for University of Venus in 2011 about how all academics could benefit from approaching their writing as a writer does (in other words, like it’s their job), and the pushback I got via social media was, I’m not really a writer: I write.

This made me pause. I’m still thinking about that.

So I wonder, dear readers: do you hate writing (or at least have a strong dislike for it)? Does the feeling come and go? Is it a recent development? No judgement: I’m here to learn. Hopefully I can help.

Bonus track: 

Because Janelle Monae has a new album out and it’s amazing.