Writing (and Life) Advice

Writer Heidi Barr published the best little craft essay yesterday on Brevity’s Blog. Honestly, you’d be hard pressed to find better writing (and life) advice. This five-minute read is worth your time. I printed it off and am keeping a copy at my writing desk.

By the way, Barr’s new book of poetry, Cold Spring Hallelujah (which I reviewed for Harbor Review), is publishing on November 1, 2019. I am not given to hyperbole when I tell you that Barr is stepping into the void left by Mary Oliver’s death. Hallelujah!

If you are local to the Twin Cities metro area, you can catch Barr’s launch party at Gustaf’s Up North Gallery in Lindstrom, MN on November 7th, 2019 at 7 pm.

Fall comes to the St. Croix River

Summer ’19: Dog Days Become Book Days

Right after my son’s grade school let out for the summer, we decided the timing was right to add a puppy to our family. The following Saturday (6/15/19) we brought home a 10-week old bernedoodle. Her name: June Carter.

10-week old June

I knew it would be a summer filled with little else but puppy training and monitoring; I signed on for the job. But the reality was even more work, more chaos, and more sleep deprivation than I had anticipated. My husband has said he would not do it again. I am less sure.

5-month old June

She is, after all, pretty cute. This is true even if she spends most of the day “playing” with Bilbo (the cat) and Bilbo spends most of his days executing complex mind games against June. This is true even if June’s bladder is not yet an extended-wear model.

With June the dog and my nine-year old underfoot this summer, I rarely achieved the deeper dive I need for writing; in consequence, I read more than I wrote this summer. I guess you could say June helped me remember the joy of summer reading.

I rediscovered the benefit of checking out books from the library: a firm deadline.

Six of the memoirs I read (all pictured above) involved death or debilitating (potentially mortal) injuries and/or disease. I am drawn to such memoirs and an entire shelf of my home library is devoted to the topic of death and dying. For fun, I read a historical account of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s various historical dwellings in Minnesota. He lived in a surprising number of places. The Fitzgerald book has inspired a new (or, more accurately, revived) essay-in-progress.

Favorite summer reading location; a hammock in my backyard.

Two of my writer friends, Joy Riggs and Katy Yocom (Bilbo can’t stop talking about Katy’s book), published books this summer. I highly recommend both books! My final summer read was a collection of essays by Randon Billings Noble. This book flows seamlessly, from one essay to the next. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book of essays so quickly. I will link to reviews of these books (links on the authors’ names), once I have them up on Goodreads.

Perhaps you didn’t know you can support an author by reviewing their books online. It’s all about good “litizenship” (being a good literary citizen). I stole this term from Hippocampus Magazine, where I serve on their editorial staff as a reader. I am not certain if Hippocampus was the originator of the term, but I like it! I love to see my friends publishing books and, it reminds me that one day, yes one day, it could be me with my name on the cover of a book.

To that end, I am back at it–writing, revising, editing–now that my son is back in school. I have three shorter works publishing this month: an essay in an online publication, a review, and a piece in St. Paul Almanac (an annual anthology).

Welcoming 2019 with Intentions not Resolutions

I read recently that the definition of a professional is someone who works daily at the things she loves, even on those days she doesn’t love them so much.

As 2018 comes to a close, I’ve found myself questioning whether I really am a writer. I can sum up the external net results of this year pretty quickly. I published two pieces early in the year, a review and a personal essay. I had one other flash essay accepted in late summer, but it has not published and I cannot get the venue to respond to my request for an expected pub date (although I’ve already been paid for the piece). Nothing makes me feel less like a validated writer than a lack of response from a publishing venue.

It’s not as if I haven’t been plugging away at my writing; I have. I’ve even written one of my favorite essays to date. Since November, I’ve submitted the essay to four dream publications. I am committed to seeing this essay through to publication where, in the past, I’ve often quit after the first few rejections. I will keep on submitting this one down the line of most desired publications.

I’ve submitted 38 times this year–many of those are still outstanding. I think my “goal” last year was to submit 100 times. I guess I fell short of that goal, but the intention behind the goal had me submitting at least twice as much as I did in 2017. Part of the issue now is that I’ve become more selective with where I want to publish. Perhaps I need to view this as a sign of the developing writing professional in me.

In August I attended Hippocampus Magazine’s annual writing conference for creative nonfiction writers–HippoCamp–for the first time. After this marvelous conference, I signed on as a reader for Hippocampus, fulfilling an intention of mine that took shape in grad school. Reading essays each week for Hippocampus is an act of literary citizenship and an education, all in one.

During the first half of this year, I worked intently on my memoir-in-progress. I thought it was complete but developments in my life over the summer made me rethink that “doneness.” I put it aside and, this fall, signed up for Kate Hopper’s Motherhood and Words class for the first time (although I’ve attended many of Kate’s retreats). Even after receiving my MFA in CNF, Kate’s class had much to teach me. That’s where I began (and completed) my *favorite* essay–a long form essay. I also began another promising essay that I’ve let rest during the month of December.

December was devoted to my own health. Menopause has been doing a number on me this past year. I finally admitted that–30 years later–it was time to return to treatment for an ugly eating disorder that has reared its head along with my changing hormones (not unlike adolescence). I had to hit pause on my writing practice.

Health first. Health always first. I cannot write effectively when 75% of my brain and soul is devoted to thoughts about food and self-imposed body politics.

To be perfectly honest, 2018 has been kind of a sucky year for me. I am ready to brush the dust off my feet and move on. I hope that renewed mental health and a new maturity (and decreased hot flashes) are on the horizon for next year.

This morning, I read Heidi Barr’s wonderful blog post about revolutions not resolutions. I need a personal revolution this year, I think. That revolution probably involves a great deal more self acceptance and kindness than I’ve exhibited over the past few years.

Earlier today, I also read the latest from Assay Journal (a piece by Vivian Wagner) on writing book reviews as a form of literary citizenship. I am bookmarking Wagner’s essay, which provides a clear way forward for writing more (and better) book reviews.

So here are my intentions for 2019:

  1. Keep on writing, even when I am not loving it;
  2. Tell myself I am a writer, daily;
  3. Return to my memoir when it calls to me (I know it will);
  4. Continue to finish some of those many essays trapped in my computer and send them out into the world on a regular basis;
  5. Write a handful of book reviews;
  6. Get emotionally right side up;
  7. Learn to use my “real” camera;
  8. Walk more, sit less;
  9. Keep on swimming to the other side of menopause; and,
  10. Remember–on behalf of my children and my childlike writer self–that “sustained caution prohibits growth”. (from a Tony Linkson blog post on Holstee)

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