Monday, April 20, 2009
Putting my research to work, I have been creating a digital portfolio to both showcase my work and offer advice to fellow writers. That being said, my site is officially published and complete...for now :) There have been a few technical glitches along the way that I will still be working out, and I will, of course, be updating the information. To check it out, click this link: http://seburns.iweb.bsu.edu/digitalportfolio/Home.html. And if anyone has feedback, I would love to hear it!!
Sunday, April 19, 2009
“Fitting writing around other commitments shows determination.” I found this quote in an article by author Alison Baverstock and felt that most writers can empathize with these words (371). This becomes interesting when one considers another quote by Thomas Mann that reads, “a writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than for others” (qtd. Pipher 76). Complicating each other, these quotes help draw the conclusion that writing is a difficult task requiring time and effort—both of which can be hard to come by in everyday life. This idea is certainly not new to any writer, but it does help explain one complaint many writers have: I would love to write more often, but I simply don’t have the time and energy.
The above is one complaint that I hear myself use fairly frequently. Between school, work, family, and friends, I rarely find time to sit down and write anything that won’t eventually be turned in for a grade—sometimes I don’t even get to write that. So how can this problem be solved without begging God to extend the hours in a day? Simply put, it can’t; however, I received some advice in a creative writing class that at least works towards a solution.
Writers first need to think of writing as less of a daunting task. My creative writing professor, Peter Davis, explained that many writers feel they need to set aside time to write—designate an hour or so of their evening to sit at a desk and let the pen flow. While this technique may work for some, other writers, myself included, find the act of setting time aside becomes intimidating. The set hour will loom ominously on the to do list, and the task of writing turns into a chore that no longer deserves anticipation. However, a way to reserve time without this side effect does exist.
Instead of designating a time to write, use spare time in between activities to compose. Many writers have a reconceived notion that good drafts come only from careful planning, but this is simply not true. Sometimes writing an idea down—a sentence, paragraph, poem, or even quote—in between classes or while you're eating lunch can lead to a productive draft later on.
I decided to test this idea a few weeks ago. I had ten minutes to kill between my classes that normally would have been spent staring at the ceiling or brushing my hair. Instead, I took out my notebook and composed this sketch:
“…we can not allow them to take power!” He finished his last words, slamming his fist deep into the podium. After wiping the sweat from his brow [just one, a distinct unibrow with a slight arch like the bow of his lover’s lips], he stepped off the platform. As he touched his foot to the bottom stair, he saw the boy hidden within the crowd and starring up at him from a few feet away. The boy had curly brown locks [that mirrored hers].
Meanwhile she gazed down from her window placed high above the crowd. She spotted her son among the rowdy people. He was gazing at the father she had hoped he’d never find. ‘What have I done,’ she thought. Letting the curtain fall back slowly, her feet turned outward and away. She began to feel lightheaded. As her arms reached, making a plea to the nearby counter, she fell forward to land halfway on the couch. Her body was limp, and her legs dangled at awkward angles as they slid onto the floor. Three knocks at the door confirmed for her that it was over. As the men burst in, she closed her eyes.
* * *
The boy came back to the apartment around four o’clock. He opened the door to find his mother gone. ‘Disposed of by now,’ he thought. Contently he shut the door and walked back down the stairs to the main lobby. The man from the podium was waiting for him there.
I’m not sure where the idea for this scene came from or what I want to do with it, but I am sure that had I thought about that while I was writing it, I would have lost the idea. This is a working draft that I can come back to when I get another free ten minutes, or I can set aside time to perfect. In either case, it was not daunting to produce, and I am generally pleased with the spontaneous result.
In conclusion, my suggestion is this: for writers struggling to “[fit] writing around other commitments,” try jotting ideas in between those commitments. Then return to those ideas when time is available. If something useful comes out of this scrap-writing, great; if not, you’ve only wasted ten minutes or so.
When I sit down to write (whether it’s an essay, a poem, a research paper, etc) I go through somewhat of a ritual. First I sit in front of a blank computer screen, starring down the back-lighted blank page hoping that words will simply begin to form in the pixels—which has never actually happened :( When I an idea starts to form, I let the words flow out either onto the keyboard or in a nearby notebook while simultaneously spell-checking and reworking syntax. When I reach the end of my thought, I go back and re-work everything crafting transitions, images, and various grammatical details that escape me in the first draft. Needless to say, my writing is hours upon hours of creation and re-creation (not to be confused with recreation, though that too occurs occasionally), a constant perfecting of the craft.
I believe that many writers have processes, both similar to and different from my own. We take into consideration audience and the impact that we want to have upon them; we use this information to build our work through revision and editing. But does this act, the acquiring of a process, make us writers and our work writing?
Before last year, I would have been inclined to argue yes. However, during a personal interview, my friend and colleague Nikki Caswell changed my mind. We were discussing the definition of writing when she brought forth this idea: “When a child writes one word on a piece of paper, that one word has meaning; that’s why mothers keep it. That’s writing.” I turned this idea over in my head for awhile, honestly not wanting to accept it and make my endless hours of process meaningless by comparison. If a child could produce writing in five minutes, what made my work more significant aside from perhaps vocabulary? If the process was not essential, what makes writing, writing?
Finally I decided that Nikki must be right; writing was simply anything produced with intentional and effective meaning. This at least meant that the processes writers follow are not in vane. Because writing is intended to have meaning, writers spend time perfecting their work to convey the meaning in an effective manner; thus the difference between writer and child became an element of craft.
This was an idea that I could accept—a way to rationalize what writing is without undermining the process that creates it. But this idea too is now being challenged. A few months ago, I was browsing the web when I came across a site called Found Magazine. This website is a collection of notes, letters, photos, etc. that have been misplaced by their authors and found by others; the notes are then posted online for anyone interested to browse and comment on. This means that the writings were intentionally produced, but they may or may not have been created with the meanings that viewers have in mind (mostly because the viewers are not the intended audience).
With this discovery, I would like to pose this simple question: Is this writing? I have done a research paper on this topic, but I am always looking to challenge and update my opinion of what writing is and how it can be defined, so please let me know what you think.
While doing some research on creating a digital portfolio, I came across an interesting article by Alison Baverstock titled, “How to Present Yourself as a Writer.” In this piece, Baverstock shares helpful tips for any aspiring writer concerning the fine art of getting noticed (I strongly recommend anyone interested in reading this article, visit my works cited and get a hold of the original text).
One of her strongest points in the article is that writers should develop the ability to self-promote their work. She acknowledges that “one agent [an editor] receives thirty-fifty unsolicited manuscripts everyday” meaning that many times “[one’s] publication may be less significant…than [her] ability to talk it up” (Baverstock 369). Taking this information into account means that writers are not only expected to turn out quality work, but also that they must be able to demonstrate the significance of their work to the public.
Thinking this idea over in my head, I realized that this was something I have never really done with my own work. Aside from reading pieces to my close friends, family, boyfriend, and sometimes dog, I cannot say that I have in any way attempted to promote my personality or my work. So the question for me, and I would imagine for many other beginning writers, became: where do I start?
I began looking around for this information, and I have used what I gathered thus far to construct this helpful website: http://seburns.iweb.bsu.edu/digitalportfolio/Home.html. There are tips about how to use the available technology to benefit promotion ideas as well as general tips for constructing a digital portfolio. In the meantime, here is a short list of ideas I have come across in my research that I found particularly creative and useful:
- Create a portfolio of your work- whether it’s digital or put together in a binder, having something tangible to show potential readers and employers is an essential marketing tool.
- Join a writer’s community- start/join a group of local writers to bounce ideas off of one another, establish contacts, and share advice as well as frustrations.
- Share you story- local newspapers are always looking for personal interest pieces, so why not become one? Share the tale of how you got started, what you hope to become, and perhaps even some of your work.
- STAY POSITIVE- many writers start to ask themselves, “Why should a writer who is known for writing, feel under an obligation to suddenly become a talker?” The answer is simple; Baverstock says it best when she claims, “if you want to get your work better known you will have to think seriously about making yourself sound interesting… and this is best achieved by a positive attitude to the process” (Baverstock 370).
I hope these tips are helpful to anyone aspiring to become known; for more information, please visit my website.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
This late into the semester (which ends in 3 weeks!!), I find my schedule cramped with to-do lists, group projects, homework, and not to mention an excessively high accumulation of dirty laundry. Despite my efforts, none of the above seem to be getting accomplished; I find myself remembering what it is like to be a small child with a plateful of vegetables that just won’t disappear no matter how I toss about my fork.
It is usually at this moment that the universe will likely throw in one more twist: I will lose my job; someone I know will pass away unexpectedly; I will find out that I have not signed up for next semester’s classes correctly…any number of small disasters threaten to push my sanity that small step necessary to tumble right over the edge.
When I find myself at this point, I have to remember, “we all work within constraints that define us, hinder us, and teach us what we need to know.” I read this in a book titled Writing to Change the World by Mary Pipher, and I think there is an excellent lesson both about life and about writing to be learned in these words.
As the stress in my life builds, I try to concentrate on how it is shaping my perception of the world. I then begin to build the impression, the lesson that I have learned, into something I can share with others. This is not a process that happens overnight, nor does it come naturally. For example, when my aunt passed away, it took me nearly two years to realize that the painful experience had been a necessity in my life. Through my reflections on the experience, I learned to question what it means to know and love someone, to have the right to grieve. These were questions that I did not know I had inside of me until I began to write about the experience, and it was not until my fifth or sixth attempt at writing that these questions became clear to an outside audience. Nevertheless, the result was a piece of creative nonfiction that I feel helps me deal with a personal tragedy while addressing a universal occurrence.
My overall point: one must understand how to take what appears to be a constraint and use it to better understand something about the world. To do this, ask questions of your experiences, and then share those questions. As Arthur Miller said, “great drama is great questions or it is nothing but technique,” and if this is true, then we all have the potential to be great writers.
This will be my second attempt at keeping a blog; my first attempt was somewhat of an epic fail on Blogger.com. My hope is that this blog will have a brighter future:
In a book titled, Writing to Change the World, Mary Pipher uses several quotes to express her attitude towards what constitutes effective composition. One such quote by Sam Smith reads, “I feel the vacuum, the loneliness, the silence, the dehydration of the soul as people who want desperately to save our [world] still wander the streets without knowing how to say hi to one another” (qtd. Pipher 3).
As part of my digital portfolio, I hope to use this blog in a couple of different ways; however, first and foremost I want to use this blog to throw my ideas into the digital world if only that I may say “hi” to anyone who cares to listen. I will write entries sharing inspiration, advice, and even research where appropriate to help other writers develop work and get that work noticed. In addition, I want to bounce ideas for my own writing into cyberspace and see what advice readers have.
That being said, please help me start this journey-- my first successful blog.