In the new year we reflect on our goals. It’s a time when we consider what we might set in motion, complete, or resurrect as writers. It’s time when I am reminded of a simple word that feels all-powerful: begin.
Now is the time to hone your practice and find your seat at the table, writing desk, or couch. Work with me to reach your writing goals this year. I’m offering weekly and bi-monthly coaching sessions for writers looking to launch their work in this new season.
Drop me an email if you’re interested in discussing possibilities. I currently have space for new clients: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Summer arrives in the North like a dream. Exuberant, joyous, freeing. One thing I love about my summer is watching my sons run wild. Bedtime is extended, the outdoors becomes a roving playground, and I see their swift transformation into wilder versions of themselves. They find a freedom in the unscheduled hours we occupy. Planned activities feel more exciting after hours of fluttering time that spreads like a quilt of wind over days.
They also fight and bicker and meltdown. But that’s to be expected. I try my best to stay hands off and to avoid nagging and scolding and demanding they clean up. Right now they are wrestling on the futon in the living room with a bunch of pillows. I hear screaming, laughter, shouts, demands, giggles. All of it necessary. All of it good.
Since school got out last week, I’ve struggled to get back to my writing practice. It’s difficult to focus with them here and my husband is currently away for a training. I have come to see my writing practice like a meditation practice. I listen to Tara Brach – meditation teacher, Buddhist – talks often and much of what she says about meditation, applies to writing. I’m also a big fan (as you all know) of Brene Brown‘s work and highly recommend her current Netflix special. Taking from their work and my observations, I’ve come up with some principles for summer writing practices.
Make a goal and track it. I think this is essential. Write down what you plan to do and then write down what you do. It really helps if you work with a buddy on this and either start a shared google doc to set goals and track actuals OR text each other. You can either track words or time. Think about how many days a week you want to write, how much time, and whether or not the word count matters to you. If, for example, you’re a poet or you’re editing, word count isn’t a helpful measure.
Develop your writing boundaries. What are boundaries? People talk about them all the time but I don’t know that we all understand them. Brene Brown highlights how in order to be vulnerable we need to feel secure in our boundaries because then we know that we are taking care of ourselves and we won’t let anyone take advantage of us–we need to develop self-trust. So, create your writing boundaries. Mainly this is about carving out space and time on a regular basis that is all yours. Your own space. Your own time so that you can write. You have to keep it sacred. I find that when I leave my work for too long, I lose it. My characters hide, the story falls apart, and I feel scared of going back to it. This is why we have to stay in practice. If you do stop or take a break. You simply return to the work and begin again. No drama. No story. No judgement.
Be free. Like my children, open time and open space creates new energy and new ways of thinking. Nurturing our writing can be the same. We are looking for our voice or we are developing it. We are trying to find a way to articulate the parts of life that feel wholly voiceless and without words or taboo and shameful or too sentimental and precious. Go into the woods or the museum with a paper and pen, sketch pictures or images that have to do with your work, dig in the garden, swim in the ocean. Do nothing for a day. Find ways to break up your routine and breathe new life in to your work.
Fail. Failure is essential. Brene Brown talks about the essentiality of failing. If you’re going to be innovative, creative, and successful, you’re going to fail. Let yourself fail big time. Stretch yourself out. You will fail to keep your schedule, you will fail to hit your word count, you will fail to finish that story, you will abandon your novel. What matters is that you keep going. That’s all. Head down, keep writing. Don’t listen to the critics in your life, especially the one on your shoulder.
Risk everything. If you want to connect with your readers, if you want to be a good writer, you must take risks. In my first graduate writing workshop, one of my instructors, Clint McCown, gave us two pieces of great advice. First, whenever your character cries on the page you miss an opportunity for your reader to cry. But more importantly, because my characters never cry, he said, good writing risks sentimentality, it drives write up to that cliff but never falls off (well, it does, but that’s a fail). In writing, we expose ourselves either by writing about our own lives in intimate ways or creating characters that expose our greatest hopes and fears. You know the feeling you get when you’re onto something. That feeling comes from pushing up to the edge of an idea, a character, a feeling, a longing and laying it bare like an offering before your reader.
I’m filled with it. It’s a tension in my spine. A desire to pummel. I sick echo in the belly. A longing to turn away. A desperate sadness that women are dehumanized, that my body is not considered my own in this country.
The white female governor of Alabama is now signing a law that criminalizes not only abortion but women who choose to go out of this state to have an abortion. So, one can easily imagine how this terrorism will play out. How women will be hunted down and locked away in the institution of deep trauma, abuse, rape, and torture AKA our prison system. They will take these mothers away from their real children to lock them away if indeed this law is allowed to stand. Of course, the grand master plan is to get this to the supreme court where keg party Kavanaugh sits making it a ruling conservative majority.
Please, women, run.
Sometimes it doesn’t feel worth the effort it takes to keep on trying to say the same thing over and over again in a million different ways, hoping to be heard. Abortion is not murder. My body is my own. I have the right to own my own body and to make my own medical decisions.
Growing into middle age, there are moments now, I glance down the long hallway of my knowing –the long education of coming to know– what it is to be woman in this world. I hold on to the acute awareness, the visceral sensation, of knowing that my body is only tentatively my own. That my life is secondary to the lives of men. That because I fit into categories of privilege I am somewhat safe or safer for now. But if one, as a woman, remains vigilant in her looking, does not turn away into illusion, blow the candle light out, she maintains the knowing truth that her body is no safer than those brutalized, murdered, locked away and beaten bodies of the others who share her gender but not her class, color, status, sexual orientation and cis-bodied-identity. Or those others who have not been so lucky.
Run for office.
Please, women, run for office. Hundreds of us must run and continue running if we are to make this change possible. The white men in suits from the ruling class minority are not going to change. They work for the boss and the boss is not you.
I think of women’s art and how so much of it is called craft though the skill and expertise of say, making a quilt, goes well beyond most paintings we decide to call art.
I think of the way women tell stories—of the lyric, of the body—and how close, how intimate we draw up to our readers.
I think of the back-handed obsession with denouncing certain ways that women write—just a journal entry, a mess of self, navel-gazing.
We are not hiding behind the walls of high art or the institution of such and such,
It’s that time of year. Time for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference and this year it’s in Portland, Oregon. Come see me talk about writing and find out what the game Neon Daycare, which I played with my sisters and cousins as a young girl, has to do with writing.
S228. The Landscape of Memory: Writing Places That Don’t Exist. (Kelly McMasters, Miranda Weiss, Emily Casey, Jericho Parms) While setting is often seen as the purview of fiction writers, place has become its own sub-genre in the creative nonfiction community. Whether tracking breaking stories in situ or casting generations into the past, the writer’s job is often to create the landscape of memory out of the ether. How, aside from Proust’s madeleine, can we gain access to places to which we no longer have access, and landscapes that are essentially make-believe? How do writers render a remembered landscape real?