Hooked Searches for Time & Space (& Takes a Little Break)

3 05 2012

One of my lit star heroes is Ariel Gore. As a social worker, I pressed Atlas of a Human Heart into the hands of the young women I worked with, one after another. And a ragged copy of her guide, How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead, has staked a firm claim on our boat’s tiny bookshelf, going on its fifth season aboard the Nerka. (Extra points of awesome: an interview with Fisher Poet/’zine  Moe Bowstern appears p140-147!)

Before You’re Dead begins, “Everybody knows it because Virginia Woolf said it: You need money and a room of your own if you’re going to write. But I’ve written five books, edited three anthologies, published hundreds of articles and short stories, and put out 35 issues of my zine without either one. If I’d waited for money and a room of my own, I’d still be an unpublished welfare mom – except they would’ve cut my welfare off by now. It might be nice to have money and a room (or it might be suicidally depressing – who knows?) but all you really need is a blank page, a pen, and a little bit of time.”

Given that Ms. Gore’s words are near-holy to me, I’m embarrassed to admit my recent struggles. Our return to Sitka has been balm for my soul, but hell on my writing. Finding a place to work has been tough. I haven’t made a single sentence of progress on my memoir. The challenge of writing A Whole Book – even one page, one freaking word at a time – feels agonizingly impossible, like riding a unicycle with a flat tire up Everest. Blogging, so seductive with its short story capsules and immediately gratifying writer/reader exchanges, wins my attention every time.

Some days I think Bear should be my ghostwriter.

I chewed on discouragement for weeks, before finally ‘fessing up to my writing buddies. Of course I should’ve turned to them sooner. Beyond generous encouragement and support, they deftly flipped my frustration into a fun writing prompt.

Kari wrote, “Hearing about the places you’ve been forced to write kind of cracks me up. (The laundry room, the payphone room.) Maybe you should use that as a warm-up for your writing sessions. Spend five minutes describing your writing space of the moment. Then post to your blog!”

Pam seconded that idea. “A blog about where you find yourself writing these days is sure to be humorous and uplifting. Your readers will empathize, you’ll get good feedback and have a good warm up, and the positive feedback will carry you through starting what seems to be impossible now.”

These are seriously good friends – as well as excellent memoirists and bloggers. Check out Kari’s blog, Rhymes with Safari, and Pam’s, Putting on my Big Girl Panties.

Their suggestion was well-timed. Just hours earlier, I’d committed to give someone four chapters by the end of May. Breaking my word to this person isn’t an option. So I’m going to step back from all other projects for the coming weeks, fully surrendering to halibut fishing and chapter writing, chapter writing and halibut fishing. For the most part, this hiatus will include Hooked. Necessary discipline for distractible me, but bittersweet all the same. More than readers, you’re friends. I’ll miss our frequent conversations.

But a quick warm-up to get the words flowing, occasionally sharing my often-ridiculous surroundings with you before diving into the chapters, after surfacing from halibut bellies… That might be manageable. We’ll see. Apologies for the radio silence, friends, and many thanks for your understanding and patience. I hope to see you on the other side of the mountain.

Armpit deep in halibut.

Writer friends… Does this sound familiar? What are your favorite writing prompts? Any personal tricks you use for breaking your projects down into manageable pieces? How have you gotten through these funks?


Writer of the Month? Thanks, Red Wheelbarrow!

2 12 2011

As much (and as loudly) as I grieve our autumn migration, leaving our Sitka family for the winter, it doesn’t take long before I remember that this transient lifestyle brings the best of several worlds into my life. Our winter-life offers luxuries like regular showers, personal space, and access to Thai food. But one of the biggest blessings has been the opportunity to participate with Bellingham’s Red Wheelbarrow Writers (RWB).

If you’re a writer who’s even remotely within the Seattle – Vancouver BC I-5 corridor, I strongly recommend keeping an eye on Red Wheelbarrow opportunities. (They’ve got a FB page here – “like” them to get the latest event updates.)  They’ve offered some of the best writing workshops I’ve attended (how to write a query letter, non-fiction proposals, and building platform) and always have stellar speakers.

Beyond classes, RWB fosters a vibrant, inspiring writing community. The first Saturday of every month is Happy Hour – an opportunity to share your work with a joyfully supportive crowd. These are the folks I spent years longing for.

When you feel a dizzying affection for someone – or, in this case, a group of someones – there’s nothing better than learning they like you back. So when author and RWB co-founder Cami Ostman invited me to be their December writer of the month, I was honored.

A little intimidated, too. How to articulate my writing process for others, when I spend so much time questioning it, for myself? How to publicly proclaim an identity that, in truth, is still a very new journey – exhilarating at times, terrifying at others?

Fortunately, email interviews allow for slowly mulling over the questions, second-guessing your answers as terrible, deleting, reconsidering, rephrasing. Repeating as needed. (If only spoken word encounters came with a similar rewind!)

The gift of this process was that, by the end, I had a much stronger sense of what my writing life means to me. If you’re having a period of writer’s block or your inner critic is being particularly ruthless, I recommend assigning yourself these interview questions. Like the classic “Why I Write” exercise, these questions are powerful meditations on why we hand ourselves over to this conviction that words matter. (Other suggestions, friends? What are your tricks for encouraging/understanding your writer self?)

The interview is available here. This is a new feature for RWB (author Jennifer Wilke kicked off the series in November) so please check back for future profiles of our talented members.  Many thanks, RWB, for this and all of the other opportunities you’ve shared!

"So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow..." Photo by Susan Tive

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