Monday, January 19, 2015

Small Successes

It's that time of the year where my plate is so full something's bound to slide off the edge. When that happens, I can get a bit discouraged about my writing. I want to work on revising the novel, but I'm short on big chunks of time for the kind of full-immersion work that requires. So I've been hovering around my short stories. Which brings me to the small successes.

Small success #1: I finished a short story that took a degree of commitment to revision that I have often been unwilling to give. I had to restructure, unpack, explore characters to the extent I might for a novel. I fought through my desire to "just be done with it" and to ignore my wise writing partner's advice. In the end, I had a piece I feel so proud of and excited about that I sent it off to one of those "they never say yes" markets. Who knows what will happen? But I'm jazzed to have an awesome new story in my stable ready to race.

Small success #2: I got a rejection for one of my stories that was personal and incredibly complimentary, telling me that I should definitely keep sending the story out. I'm so grateful to the person who took the time to write that encouraging "yes within a no."

Small success #3: The other rejection I just got was an impersonal form rejection for a piece that was targeted perfectly for that specific market. After a brief bout of discouragement, I looked back at the piece and could see that while the subject matter was right for that market, the piece itself was a bit of a mess and hadn't been ready to send out. I had been impatient, and it showed. So what's the success here, you may ask? The success is that I was able to recognize that and learn from it rather than wallowing in disappointment. I brought the piece to my critique partner and she's given me some great advice on how to re-enter the piece and start fixing it. And now I know I have the persistence for the kind of major overhaul revisions needed on this type of short story, the kind that could be a novel but will shine best in the short form.

Small success #4: One of my short stories, which appeared in the latest issue of the online magazine Kaleidotrope (see my horn-tooting post), received a twitter review. Yes, a twitter review. A 150 character response from Tiny Reviews, calling it a "subversive, metafictional fairytale." Seeing that someone else, someone I don't know, got what I was going for is a great rush, because, after all, connecting with a reader is really what it's all about.

Small success #5: An online book club chose my story "The Battle of the Pewhasset Pie Palace" for their discussion group. There was a transcript of the online discussion. Once again, I got to feel the rush of seeing my story and characters reach across and connect with readers who haven't met me. They got what I was going for, and while there were criticisms, they were all valid. What I'm realizing is praise or criticism actually carries less of an electronic jolt than that feeling of having connected, having communicated something successfully.

So there you have it. Small successes. Sometimes they're the only kind there is. If you're hitting one of those discouraging spots, look about for what could count as a success, however small.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Tooting My Horn in the New Year

We interrupt this regularly scheduled program for a brief bout of personal horn-tooting. My short story, "Bread of Life," a feminist spin on the golem legend, with a dose of meta-commentary on the role and power of storytellers and storytelling, appears in this month's issue of Kaleidotrope, a well-respected online 'zine of sci-fi, fantasy and other forms of speculative fiction. My story sits alongside several other intriguing works by Michael Andre-Driussi, Stephen J. Barringer, and Gemma Files. So, in the spirit of self-promotion and braggadacio, today's post is devoted exclusively towards encouraging you to check it out. Proceed, link-followers! Go forth and read!

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Post in Praise of Maria Popova's "Brain Pickings"

This is a plug, a plug for one of the most worthwhile, intelligent, well-researched, thought-provoking blogs anywhere on the internet. Brain Pickings, written by Maria Popova, is consistently packed with insight, and with explorations of fascinating written works both old and new. I am never disappointed when I follow Ms. Popova down the rabbit hole. In evidence, I submit a short section from her blog, her answer to an 11 year old girl's question "Why do we need books?"

Some people might tell you that books are no longer necessary now that we have the internet. Don’t believe them. Books help us know other people, know how the world works, and, in the process, know ourselves more deeply in a way that has nothing to with what you read them on and everything to do with the curiosity, integrity and creative restlessness you bring to them.
Books build bridges to the lives of others, both the characters in them and your countless fellow readers across other lands and other eras, and in doing so elevate you and anchor you more solidly into your own life. They give you a telescope into the minds of others, through which you begin to see with ever greater clarity the starscape of your own mind.
And though the body and form of the book will continue to evolve, its heart and soul never will. Though the telescope might change, the cosmic truths it invites you to peer into remain eternal like the Universe.
In many ways, books are the original internet — each fact, each story, each new bit of information can be a hyperlink to another book, another idea, another gateway into the endlessly whimsical rabbit hole of the written word. Just like the web pages you visit most regularly, your physical bookmarks take you back to those book pages you want to return to again and again, to reabsorb and relive, finding new meaning on each visit — because the landscape of your life is different, new, “reloaded” by the very act of living.
Looking for something worth reading? Go visit Brain Pickings. Looking to keep the internet a home for more than cute cat videos and celebrity gossip? Make a donation to Brain Pickings. Thus endeth the plug.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Creativity vs. Mindfulness

This summer, I read a lot about the practice of mindfulness - being present, in the moment. I felt it was work I needed to do, something with which I struggled. My mind has a tendency to wander, to get lost in the forest of thought, and I was feeling some negative effects of that tendency, such as leaving my body when my husband was talking to me about something, or losing track of where I was going when I was driving, or eating an entire meal without really tasting it, or worrying so much about the next things I had to do that I failed to notice the beauty right in front of my face. You know - little stuff like that. So, I read up on being present. I read books by Thich Nhat Hanh, and books about Christian contemplative practices, and Barbara Brown Taylor's AN ALTAR IN THE WORLD. And I practiced being mindful and present as I walked, as I ate, as I moved through my day. I started honoring a digital Sabbath every Saturday so I would choose presence over technology. I mean, I worked on this stuff.

But just now I am reading a book called THE CREATIVE MIND, by Nancy C. Andreasen.  It explores the nature of creativity, examines a wide range of studies on the subject and looks at the current neuroscience behind it. One section struck me today, a  section delineating what appear to be common threads to the creative process. The first such thread, or stage, is a kind of trance, an entering into another world, "a state apart from reality." I recognize this stage. It's something of an out of body experience. I sometimes liken it to going down the rabbit hole. I have talked about this stage in the process with other writers, too. It is a necessary step in the evolution of a creative endeavor.

And yet, you cannot enter this "out-of-body", creatively fertile mental state if you are practicing being present, being in your body. There is a kind of tension between the creative process and the practice of being present or mindful.

I must admit, I felt a slight eureka sensation as I struggled to articulate this idea for myself. I felt I had glimpsed, however briefly, the reason that I am prone towards absent-mindedness and struggle with mindfulness.

To have the raw material that makes poetry and fiction sing, a writer ought to practice mindfulness. After all, how can you fully evoke the sensations of a given place or experience if you don't allow yourself to be present and experience sensations in your own life. On the other hand, the writer must cultivate the capacity for non-presence, for that out-of-body "state apart from reality" in order to enter fully into the creative realm.

Perhaps if you are prone to creative endeavors you are also likely to struggle with mindfulness in your day to day life. Perhaps the line between presence and wandering is blurred for the creative mind. Perhaps this is where practice comes in. If you regularly engage in the writing practice and in mindfulness, your skills at slipping into and out of the two states - presence and the creative zone - become stronger, and more within your own control. Or perhaps it is a fool's game to attempt to control such things.

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