Ten Reasons Not to Date an Essayist

Uncategorized

1. The essayist will take pride in neuroses. He will go on an on about the joy of scratching his ear with a pencil or brag about how long he hasn’t driven a car.

2. Everyday outings, such as going to the grocery store, will become overwhelming adventures. Huge adventures, like swimming with whale sharks off the coast of the Yucatan, will sound like everyday activities.

3. You will never know where she is. She will insist on trying a diverse range of activities, from accordion lessons to firing a machine gun, claiming it is research for a “Never Have I Ever” column.

4. You will realize that your world is more bizarre than a postmodern short story. You will start anecdotes with, “You can’t make this stuff up!”

5. You will not know whom you’re with at any moment: the character, the narrator, the persona, or the person. You will begin to wonder if you are a character or a person and sometimes narrate the recent past as if a memory from childhood. He will hear you and violate your POV.

6. She will continually write about her mother or her days as an addict or some ethereal night in a place you do not know. You will think that she’s working through a trauma; she will say, no, she’s working on a book.

7. He will make wild claims about disparate subjects, just to test argumentative structure. You will leave each dinner party wondering what he really thinks about cannibals.

8. In conversation, she will meander through thoughts, and just when you’ve forgotten what you were discussing, she will surprise you with a point that brings it all together.

9. You will read the manuscript and ask, “Did I really say that?” Neither of you will know for sure.

10. Time will stop.

Writing Horoscopes

Freewriting, On Writing

Cancer (June 22 – July 22)
Set aside some time this week to watch people at the park, the café, or the doctor’s office waiting room. Go wherever your current tale is set. Pay attention to the movements, appearances, and conversations that make these people real. “When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature,” Cancer Ernest Hemingway reminds us.

Leo (July 23 – August 22)
Leo, your comedic timing will be spot on this week. Make sure that every pun leaving your fingertips is working in service of its larger meaning this week. As lioness Dorothy Parker said, “Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words.”

Virgo (August 23 – September 22)
Virgo Roald Dahl once said, “A writer of fiction lives in fear. Each new day demands new ideas and he can never be sure whether he is going to come up with them or not.” Don’t let that fear stall you this week, Virgo. Instead of opening your Word document and experiencing stage fright, tackle that electric white page like a gardener would as he tilled his spring beds. Seize the opportunity to plant, grow, weed, and nurture your ideas.

Libra (September 23 – October 22)
“I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil,” admitted fellow Libra Truman Capote. He was speaking of revision. Libra, this week the scales have tipped in favor of cutting, adding, and rewording rather than creating new material. Work through your past drafts dramatically on the first pass and judiciously on the second.

Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant,”
counsels Robert Louis Stevenson. If you haven’t sent out any material in a few months, don’t fret, Scorpio. Sometimes it’s more important to soak up new experiences, sometimes to sow and sometimes to reap. Focus your creative energies now on generating more new material.

Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

According to Sagittarian Mark Twain, “The most interesting information comes from children, for they tell all they know and then stop.” My advice to you this week: chat with that twelve year-old down the block. She knows more than you think she does, and won’t hold back. There’s great material in what she has to say, and perhaps you’ll find the answer to your current writing problem.

Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)
This week you will have a knack for picking up on vocal rhythms, dialects, and rural poetics. Take advantage of Mercury in cross-alignment by getting out of your apartment, your neighborhood, your town—step out of the familiar. Follow, pause, and listen, listen, listen. Open yourself to the mystery and let it in. As fellow Capricorn, Edgar Allan Poe said, “I wish I could write as mysterious as a cat.”

Aquarius (January 20 – February 18)
Aquarius, you are about to enter a period of writing that demonstrates a lyrical clarity marked by charm and gracefulness. Run with it. Let every quirk stay, mingle, and merge with your current project. You never know what you’ll keep in the next draft, but you know it’ll come from this one. Aquarian James Joyce one remarked, “I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today. I am today what I established yesterday or some previous day.”

Pisces (February 19 – March 20)
Pisces, your legacy of flexibility is both a blessing and a curse this week. While you may enjoy a self-styled world, you may feel as if you orbit too far outside of the literary mainstream. Piscean Jack Kerouac advises you to “write in recollection and amazement for yourself.” Take his advice to heart and continue to write for yourself before bending your voice for someone else.

Aries (March 21 – April 20)
Revise, revise, revise, Aries. With Mars in retrograde and Mercury cross-aligned, your creative juices are best suited by picking up that red pen. Find the heart of your project, then, as fellow Aries Samuel Beckett says, “To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.” Do not be afraid to try a different form as you revise—ask yourself if your mess will work best as a narrative or a catalogue, and on and on, until you find the best form.

Taurus (April 21 – May 20)
Taurus Vladimir Nabokov once suggested, “A writer should have the precision of a poet and the imagination of a scientist.” Don’t lose sight of the forest through the trees while you work with your line level to be exact and detailed. Work with your language while allowing your imagination to break through plots with commonplace emotional truths. Turn your mind toward creating the kind of conflict that will have you leaping out of the bathtub shouting, “Eureka!”

Gemini (May 21 – June 21)
“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn, ” Harriet Beecher Stowe reminds her fellow Gemini. This writing fatigue will soon pass and you’ll be losing yourself to the beauty and elegance of your sentences once more.

Binge Storytelling and the Brain

Esc

Summer is here and I am not on contract. Between exhausting bouts of research and even more exhausting bouts of socializing for the first time since last summer, I have been binging. One evening each weekend, some friends and I have been watching four, sometimes five, hours of Game of Thrones. After I walk home at midnight, I dream of sword fights, beautiful dresses, or maiden friends French-braiding my hair in gardens of trumpet vines. One night, I even woke to my boyfriend singing the soundtrack in his sleep: la-la la laa.

Powerfully creeped out, I laid awake thinking about how our Bacchanalian viewing is affecting us.

Binge watching—the practice of watching two or more hours of a television show in rapid succession—is a relatively new form of binging, made possible by digital recording or streaming. Netflix encourages it, as the next episode starts automatically, sometimes even before the credits have finished rolling for episode you just saw. This new way of “consuming” TV is changing us, it’s changing the way television stories are told and the way audiences interact with stories.

There’s a theory—you’ve probably heard it in politics—that TV has long-term effects on society, that it can influence our beliefs and change our cultural cores. According to “cultivation theory,” it has the power to alter our understandings of right and wrong, as well as change our perceptions of racial or ethnic differences. I have even heard that Will and Grace taught the government that gay men were regular people. But the Will and Grace effect was a byproduct of the “network era” of TV, when ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC still ruled the tube and everyone had the same selection of sitcoms to choose from.

Most of those shows were episodic, meaning that the audience could enter the story at any episode to know what was going on. You didn’t have to watch the whole season to understand the characters’ motivations because these motivations were reactionary and simplistic. Episodic shows were great in syndication—because there was no overarching storyline, the episodes could be played in any order.

There were soap operas, too, with one extensive, unbroken plot. The same characters stayed in the same place, working through the same melodramatic relationships. Even though they’re continuous, the soap plot often moves so slowly you can pick it up a year later and still have an idea of what’s happening. TV serials such as the X-Files combined the two, “monster of the week” episodes mixed with an long-arc storyline of government conspiracy.

Now, without any time passing between the air dates of episodes, the made-for-Netflix shows can capitalize off of much more complicated storylines. The audience remembers what happened in the last episode, or four episodes ago, because they just finished it, and they can follow more minor characters through plot twists and character arcs. There is no need for flashbacks. Cliffhangers can end each episode, just as they conclude each chapter of a Vonnegut book. Finish the chapter and you must turn the page; you must click to watch the next episode. The TV serial is becoming much more like novel.

Game of Thrones, while it isn’t made for Netflix, is great for binge watching because there is no main character. I remember hearing so many complaints when the presumed main character was decapitated, because it was such a jarring, blunt way to cue the audience into the fact that this plot would follow a host of major and minor characters.

According to a student from the University of Oregon television studies program, whom I had the pleasure of listening to at popular culture conference, people have always watched TV for a number of reasons: to engage with complex storylines, relax, pass time, and to enjoy particular aesthetics.

Hedonism is another reason. He didn’t mean the sheer adrenaline rush of seeing something explicitly sexual or terrifyingly violent, but the hedonism that comes with binging. To brag that you have seen a show in its entirety, over the course of a weekend, is little different than bragging that you polished off a case of Coors Summer Brew in one afternoon. And yet, that’s what an estimated 7.5 million people did when they watched the entire fourth season of Arrested Development within a week of Netflix’s release. By 2017, Netflix hopes to tap into our hedonistic urges by airing a new show every two weeks.

Companionship, another notable reason people watch TV, has also changed. Known as “parasocial interactions,” these one-sided relationships toy with the brain in bizarre ways. They are context-bound to their medium, one-sided, controlled by the character, creating an illusion of a relationship, but strangely satisfying. The character acts how we expect him or her to act, creating an emotional consistency like a good friend. While adolescent girls model life choices after characters, boys fantasize about hanging out with sports heroes. What’s more, the less we sleep as we stay awake all night binging, to more cognitive disconnect between the fictional world and real life disappears.

I recently heard a girl talking about a parasocial breakup she’d had when she finished watching some TV show. The seasons were over, her character friends and crushes gone. She became as depressed as if she had just gone through a real breakup, laying in bed and eating chocolate ice cream while mourning her loss.

Are our brains ready for binge storytelling?

I’m not quite sure, but I have a sword fight waiting and some men to drink wine with, and I better get going.

 

Stopping by the foothills on a sunny morning

Freewriting

Whose trails these are I think I know.
His house is in the gated village though;
he will not see me stopping here
to watch these hills cast long shadows.

My dog must think it queer
to stop without a cafe near
between the cactus and juniper tree
the sunniest morning of the year

He gives his leash a gentle shake
to ask if there is some mistake
the only other sound’s the sweep
of easy wind and rattlesnake.

The foothills are lovely, wide and bright,
But I have formative comments to write,
And papers to grade before I hike
And papers to grade before I hike.

Great Press for “Recorded Lightning”

On Writing

Issue #58 of Creative Nonfiction is out, and the weather-themed issue features an essay of mine about lightning.

You can read an interview about the piece here. In it, Rachel Ann Brickner and I discuss revision, form versus function, and how place makes us human.

Also, here is a review of the essay at Essay Daily that I would consider framing.

But I would recommend heading over to the website and ordering a copy.

On the Endangered List: Nature Vocabulary

On Writing

A friend just passed me an article about Oxford Dictionary’s decision to replace “nature words” with “technology words” to save space in their Junior Oxford Dictionary. So, if a word-curious adolescent wanted to look what a lark or a lobster was, or to understand the difference between alfalfa, hay, and straw, they could no longer find it in the dictionary. Gone are acorn, buttercup, elm, and magpie. No more ferns or mosses or hamsters and ferrets to build nests out of them. Now there is broadband; blackberry has been replaced with Blackberry.

Margaret Atwood and 27 other writers co-authored a letter to the dictionary, claiming that children should be encouraged to play outdoors because it helps their mental and physical health:

“Compared with a generation ago, when 40% of children regularly played in natural areas, now only 10% do so, while another 40% never play anywhere outdoors. Ever. Obesity, anti-social behaviour, friendlessness and fear are the known consequences. The physical fitness of children is declining by 9% per decade, according to Public Health England. For the first time ever, children’s life expectancy is lower than that of their parents – us.

“This is what the National Trust says in their Natural Childhood campaign: Every child should have the right to connect with nature. To go exploring, sploshing, climbing, and rolling in the outdoors, creating memories that’ll last a lifetime. Their list of 50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾ includes many for which the OJD once had words, but no longer: like playing conkers, picking blackberries, various trees to climb, minnows to catch in a net and so on.

“The RSPB has commissioned a great deal of research on this. Among many findings is the fact that outdoor activity in nature appears to improve symptoms of ADHD in children by 30% compared with urban outdoor activities and 300% compared with the indoor environment.”

A few years ago, when I was living in Spokane, many children were getting Rickets, a bone-formation disease caused by prolonged lack of vitamin D. Usually, your body takes in vitamin D while you are out in the sun—a fair-skinned only needs about a fifteen minutes a day. Even many of the adults I knew were on vitamin D prescriptions to make up for their deficiency.

While I’m usually not sold the idea of the dictionary being used as a prescriptive measure for our culture—telling us what our culture needs to be—rather than a descriptive reference—telling us what words people are using at a certain time—I could be persuaded to believe that a children’s dictionary has a slightly different role in its instruction.

In a recent podcast, Lexicon Valley hosts Bob Garfield and Mike Vuolo interviewed the editors at various dictionaries about their “Word of the Year” selections for 2015. Oxford University Press selected the emoji “face with tears of joy,” because they view the Word of the Year selection as an opportunity to focus on language change, here highlighting pictographs as an adjunct to English. Merriam Webster on the other hand, chose “–ism.” The editor at MW, Peter Sokolowski, said that they choose the Word of the Year based by the number of lookups and this year words ending with –ism (socialism, racism, fascism, feminism) had the most lookups.

One of the perennial words with the most searches, though, is “love.”

Sokolowski noted, “This tells us something about why people go to the dictionary. They’re going not just for the lexical piece, for the spelling of the etymology of the word, but the beginning of reflection, for a philosophical conversation.”

Should that kind of (soul-searching) conversation have the opportunity to promote reflection on nature as well?

An article by George Monibot in the Guardian layers another argument on the problem of our disappearing outdoor play and its related vocabulary:

“A new report shows that the UK has lost 20% of its breeding birds since 1966: once common species such as willow tits, lesser spotted woodpeckers and turtle doves have all but collapsed; even house sparrows have fallen by two thirds. Ash dieback is just one of many terrifying plant diseases, mostly spread by trade. They now threaten our oaks, pines and chestnuts.
“So where are the marches, the occupations, the urgent demands for change? While the surveys show that the great majority would like to see the living planet protected, few are prepared to take action. This, I think, reflects a second environmental crisis: the removal of children from the natural world. The young people we might have expected to lead the defence of nature have less and less to do with it. […] The fact that at least half the published articles on ash dieback have been illustrated with photos of beeches, sycamores or oaks seems to me to be highly suggestive.”

It would seem that the countryside, and our ability to fight for it, grows ever distant when its lexicon is replaced with blog, chat room, MP3, and hashtag.

Tomorrow we will awake surrounded by a forgotten place: the outdoors.

A Literacy Portfolio

Teaching

This morning, over coffee, I read an essay by Jess Burnquist about an assignment she uses to get students to think about their histories and relationship with literacy. Burnquist writes that she developed these “literacy portfolios” as an introductory assignment because “It became clear that [her students] had been scarred by negative educational or at-home experiences. How could I effectively instruct them if they doubted their ability so strongly? They needed to be able to reclaim their natural curiosity for reading all kinds of writing and to restore some amount of confidence in their literacy abilities in order to grow.”

These portfolios allow students to reinforce their love of reading and writing, or, as it sounds like is often the case, to pinpoint when the love affair soured.

The assignment is to reflect formative reading experiences by writing down their salient memories about reading. What was the first book they read? Do they recall reading on their own in the third grade? The sixth? High school? What kind of reinforcement did they receive from their families or their teachers?

The students begin to contextualize their reading experience and discover what their motivations for reading are or what their reading hang-ups are. Then they can start to, as Burnquist puts it, “reclaim their natural curiosity for reading all kinds of writing and to restore some amount of confidence in their literacy abilities in order to grow.”

Burnquist even shares her own portfolio: “Even though I’ve organized both my personal and professional lives around reading and writing, not every memory in my own literacy portfolio is a good one. Open up my binder and you’ll find out about how I learned to spell the word “M-O-M” with wooden blocks. But you’ll also see me nearly fail third grade because of my poor cursive; you’ll find out about the moment I discovered that words could express anger in the form of “hate notes” to my parents when my brother was born. You’ll get a peek at the poems I wrote in the margins of my math book, and hear about how my tenth grade English teacher accused me of plagiarism. After that, I didn’t really want to try hard on any other assignment until I started college. (That’s in my portfolio, too.)”

I think that I will try it in the next freshman course I teach. So, here is my first stab at a literacy portfolio:

Sometime Pre-K: This is my first reading memory, or rather, this is the first time that I thought I read something only to realize I wasn’t reading the text at all—I was reciting it from memory. What was really the first book that I learned to read? I have no idea, but to this day, I can recite the entirety of The House that Jack Built.

Elementary School: Over the summer, my father struck a deal with my brother and me: for every hour we read, we could watch an hour of TV. He took us to the bookstore or the library to select whatever we wanted to read. My brother begrudgingly picked up some “choose you own adventure” novel and I grabbed a R. L. Stine “Goosebumps” story. I read it quickly, eagerly. Every couple days I begged for my father to get me another book, while my brother tried to barter my hours reading for his hours watching TV.

Elementary School: My paternal grandmother bought me a subscription to National Geographic. I think I mostly looked at the pictures and read the captions and introductions of articles. My mother credits this subscription for both of her children’s fascination with the world outside of Kentucky.

Eighth Grade: Over the summer I read Crime and Punishment. I remember feeling very paranoid and suspicious the whole time.

Middle School/High School: One of the pastimes that my mother and I developed was going to Joseph Beth Booksellers in Lexington. We would drive up from our rural town and spend hours on a Saturday wandering through the bookstore, going through almost each aisle and analyzing the content on the shelves. We’d split up and come back together to talk the neatest books we’d seen, and often we’d leave with a couple we’d liked the most—anything from a dictionary of edible plants of the Sheltowee Trace, instructions on how to turn yourself invisible, to a collection of short stories by Jean Paul Sartre.

High School: We had an assignment to write a personal narrative, and I wrote about the last time I had seen my father. My parents were divorced and lived in different states, so I saw my father once every few months. My essay was sweet and funny, but nothing really happened in it—just my father trying to teach me to play “Pretty Boy Floyd” on the guitar. However, my teacher got it confused with another student’s essay about his aunt dying, and when we met for one-on-one conferences, she started crying. “I’m so sorry about your father’s death,” she choked out between sobs. I thought she was telling me that my father had died. We must have cried together for fifteen minutes before we realized the mistake.

High School: In high school, my best friend and I worked at the public library. We had most of the Dewey decimal system memorized.

College: In college I majored in anthropology and Latin American Studies, and in my second year, I had what I’ll call an “ethnography epiphany”: I realized that not all academic writing had to be terrible. That year I read The Hold Life Has by Katherine Allen and A Miracle, A Universe: Settling Accounts with Torturers by Lawrence Weschler. Allen’s was the first ethnography I read that discussed the anthropologist’s direct experience at all (and used the forbidden “I”) and Weschler’s journalistic account turned history into a story instead of list of dates and stock prices. I wanted to see if I could learn to write nonfiction well, so I signed up for a creative writing class.

 

 

 


(The image for this post is a book spine poem. It reads:
The hummingbird’s daughter
falling up
in the wilderness.
Coming of age in an unknown country,
skinny legs and all.)

My Cat (the Artful) Dodger

Freewriting

after Christopher Smart’s “My Cat Jeoffry”

 

For I will consider my cat (the Artful) Dodger.

For he was named so as a stray kitten coming ‘round the back porch.

For he enters and exits of his own volition through the cat door.

For everything he does is of his own volition.

For I cannot make him act against his own volition. For he will not cuddle when there is prowling to be done; he will not sit in my lap when through the office window, he can see a ruckus in the street.

For he purrs, rubs, and kneads of his own volition. For he loves of his own volition.

(For by stroking him I have found out electricity.)

For he begs for scraps while I am cooking by clawing my calf and throwing all of his weight into the pleading attack.

For he knows I will surrender to deep scratches.

For he grows oh so heavy in winter and cuts that much deeper.

For he struts across the keyboard and types his own sayings.

(For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.)

For at night he disappears; his sandy orange coat indistinguishable from the tall grass or the wood floorboards. For sometimes I trip over him.

(For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.)

For he studies the mourning doves. For he knows peace.

For all summer he eats doves using the bathmat as a placemat.

For all winter he eats brown mice.

(For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance. For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.)

For this is the 3 a.m. mouse who wakes everyone in the house to give chase. For Dodger wants everyone be involved. For—I think—he is trying to teach us to hunt.

(For he is of the Lord’s poor and so indeed he is called by benevolence perpetually—poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bitten thy throat!

For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.)

For he grows frustrated when we finally catch the mouse hidden behind the dresser and toss it outside; for I prove that I have not yet learned to kill.

For he is of free will, and of this will forgives my blunders.

 

Your Guide to Thievery

On Writing
(originally published under “Your Guide to Thievery,” Sept 16, 2011, thebarking.com)
  1. Know what’s played.

No one’s going to break into a house and walk out with a VCR under his arm, a bag of incandescent light bulbs, and a pair of worn Hammer pants. Keep your eye out for catchy trends and be wary of stealing these, because they’ll fade once everyone else catches on and moves onto the next thing. I see this more in titles and sentence-level constructions: what we talk about when we talk about [yawning], x is the new y, or the bromance of tabloid portmanteaux.*

 

  1.  Know your history.

In Kentucky, when someone dies and their house is about to be torn down for an expanded worship center, it’s common practice for people to strip it. Sure, there’s copper wire. But even better—antique brass doorknobs, gingerbread molding, or wild ceramic inlays. You’ve got learn what’s been of value to understand what’s valuable now. Read  Gargantua and Pantagruel, The Canterbury Tales, The Odyssey, etc. You’ll be surprised by their beauty and everything worth stealing in the classics.

Also, look to the public domain—if it’s over 80 years old, it’s fair game. Take an older piece and try rewriting it within your voice and your vision. Musicians do this all the time with folk songs (think: the Grateful Dead or Moby’s Southside). I would love to read your short story based on John Henry, Tom Dooley, or Persephone.

 

  1.  Don’t walk out with too much.

Every good thief should know how much space they have in their backpack. If it doesn’t fit, leave it behind. Make certain to take what’s worthy at the moment, but know how many tricks you can take and pack into in a short story, a poem, or an essay. The same goes for individual tricks. For example, allusions are awesome, and whenever I read one, I feel as though I just found an Easter egg and it’s July. But if you use too many, you’re going to lose your reader. T.S. Eliot wrote in 1920, “bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better…the good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from which it was torn.”

Robert Frost told lecture audiences that Eliot had made “an anthology of the best lines in poetry, strung them together, and copyrighted the result.”

Don’t expect Norton’s to annotate you.

 

  1.  Return to a loaded space.

I once had a persistent thief who broke into my house twice in a two-week period because he’d been pressed for time during the first robbery and didn’t get a thorough look around. Reread works that have a lot you could steal. Steal something different every time you read them.

 

  1.   Steal something you normally wouldn’t want.

We all knew that guy in college who had the stop sign and the police line do not cross tape as decorations in his apartment. You wouldn’t have thought that it would work hanging on the walls like that, but it really brought the room together. If you’re reading along and you see something crafty, but think that you’ll never use it, take it anyway. You never know when you’ll need an orange traffic cone.

 

  1.   Scope out a strange neighborhood.

Some alebrijes are worth more than pearls, but you’d never know it if you didn’t venture out of your comfort zone. The things that they keep in Little Mexico and the country club gated community are totally different and uniquely valuable. Read what you like, but also read and let yourself be influenced by dystopian literature, magical realism, Southern gothic, etc. Look at art, listen to new music, watch movies.

 

  1.   Practice pickpocketing on your friends.

The finer aspects of thievery involve deft maneuvers. Those guys who got your wallet while you waited in line for the Eiffel Tower didn’t learn how to steal in a day. If one of your writing friends does something cool, steal it and make it your own. See if they notice. If they do, you can always say, “Hah, yeah, I got that from your bag” and if they don’t, buy yourself a latte.

 

  1.   Think like a cop.

You never want to hold up a 7-11 when a cop is in there eating donuts. Whenever you’re up to something, cops are everywhere. You’ve got to learn when you’re about to be in trouble and when you might get offered a job by the FBI because you’ve become a master at cracking safes. If you’re stealing and you feel guilty; it’s probably close to plagiarism. Throw it in a drainage grate and find something else to steal. We’re a society of fact-checkers now, and it really isn’t worth it to make a name for yourself as being a copyright infringer.

 

 

*Like any set of guidelines, if something says don’t, you should still give it a try.

 

 

Resolutions to Write By

On Writing

On the brink of the New Year, a friend and I were discussing how to work writing into our resolutions. Each year I make some kind of writing resolution; but I try to stay away from vague resolutions, because I heard sometime ago that most goals fail if they aren’t measurable (eg. “eat a healthier diet,” whatever that means). I also usually end up with a list of forty or so resolutions, though obviously, not all pertain to writing.

Most writers create and maintain a schedule, and while it’s something they resolved to do, they probably didn’t make a New Year’s resolution out of it:
Hemingway wrote from first light to noon. Toni Morrison resolved to rise and shine at 4 am to write until getting her children ready for school. But there are many others who write in bursts (Jack Kerouac) or refuse to leave a story while on a roll, typing late into the night (George Orwell).

I find it easier to measure page counts or word counts—such as write 500 words in the morning, but I know for some people that gets tricky. Must the words be new? Does revision count toward your 500 words? Can I write 250 one day and 750 another? Before you know it, you are legislating your writing.

I like a deadline, a goal, tally marks. Scratching an item off of a list makes it real. So, typically my writing resolution follows this formula: add x pages to current manuscript, write two essays, one story, x poems, x posts for Bark, x letters, etc. Read x number of books in addition to the ones I’m teaching. This resolution is concrete and measurable, unlike, say, “write more” or “publish more.”

My friend formed her resolution by writing a routine act, but not in the scheduled way of Morrison or Hemingway. Every day she has to write, read, exercise, or stretch. There is a nice sense of flexibility to this resolution. It likewise builds routine, but doesn’t quantify it, doesn’t have any expectations from the acts. There is no “run a marathon” at the end of exercise and stretching, no “chapbook due” after twelve months of writing and reading.

I think there might be another way to create a writing resolution, but I am struggling with how one might measure it: “Care less about what other people think.”
One might be able to quantify it by counting rejections (though one would hope the two don’t go hand-in-hand)? By taking bigger risks in her writing? Or, perhaps, by promising that this year, she will write with all the abandon and confidence of a nineteen-year-old?