Saturday, April 20, 2013

Week 2

Well, that didn’t go so well. I adjusted the week’s goals down one day because we had Regional Campuses Faculty Senate Friday, which meant four hours driving to get to the Salkehatchie campus at Allendale, plus the six hour meeting, plus Will’s last Cub Scout Pack Celebration before he crosses over to the Boy Scout Troop. Awards plus the Raingutter Regatta races for the little boat he built last week meant the Pack Celebration would probably be at least an hour and a half, maybe two. So I think anybody who has twelve hours of unavailable obligations should get the day off from writing. Because, shoot, writing is HARD.

But then Laura got sick and I had to drive to Greenville to pick her up and take her to two different doctor appointments. And I had Senate prep and grading rewrites for my 102 class. I’ve been on the phone a lot with the insurance company trying to get my car fixed after somebody bashed in my bumper in the parking lot. Essentially just a whole lot going on.

So I did meet my time goal for the week, but waaaay down on the word count. Still I managed to write a little over four pages with all that going on, so I guess that’s something. It’d sure be nice if I felt that I’d actually written anything good in those four pages! It’ll come together if I keep working at it, I know, but wow, that eight-word day was a bummer.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Week 1

Alas, the whole book writing plan pretty well nixed the National Poetry Month posting a poem every day project.  I did work on my own poetry manuscript this week in addition to the new writing project, at least!

So the first week went by, and I met both my word count and time goals every day.  So that’s, what, 2169 words, about eight manuscript pages?  It’s a little hard to estimate because some of what I wrote sucked and I rewrote it away the next day, and I really only worked on segments, so there are two sections of complete draft, but also a lot of little place-marker chunks about what I want to do.  I’m not generally good at rigidly defined goals (do something every day???), so that’s a good first start.  My writing accountability guru is all about treats.  Wonder what my treat should be??

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Superman's Daily Writing Goal

I am a chicken.

I’ve been thinking about writing a book pretty seriously for a couple of years. Not a collection of poems, which I’m finishing one of now, but a creative nonfiction project. Nonfiction as a genre has a bad rep, truly. How many bad memoirs can there be in one world? EVERYbody has a story they want to tell, and it’s truly painful how few of those are interesting to anyone other than the parties involved. And really, just image your mother reading it!

But I’ve had it. I don’t care if this book sucks. I’m going to write it anyway. And it’ll never get published. But I’m going to write it anyway.

So here’s the story. It takes me about 30 minutes to write 250 words. I’m shooting for a length of about 75,000 words, just based on what published books typically run. I think what I want will actually be shorter than that, but I won’t really be able to tell until I start writing it, so let’s shoot for the high end. So let’s say I write 30 minutes a day, 75,000 words as the target. That means I’ll have a really shitty first draft (as Anne Lamott so elegantly calls it) in 300 days. I can already tell you I won’t write every day. There’s that whole work thing, commuting thing, kid thing, and occasionally I’d like to actually exchange a word or two with my husband. So let’s just call it an even year to end up with a really shitty first draft. That’s with me using something like 42 Goals to track the writing time. And a lot of cussing or praying, depending on the day.

(At least I don’t have to save the world every single day!)

Then a year to revise it. What order does everything go in? (I’m envisioning a sort of collage narrative at the moment, so that’ll be loads of fun to arrange, and I know this from several months of trying to figure out how on earth to get poems into a reasonable order.) How do I stop using the word “still” every three lines? What on earth was I thinking with that sentence? Then a year or two to try to figure out that it won’t get published. Writing a query, identifying publishers, revising again when I find the flabby stuff again. 

So the question comes down to this. Should I spend 30 minutes a day for three years writing something that won’t get published? 

Well, if I’d started this in May 2011 when I first started taking notes, I’d already be hopelessly searching for a publisher! So since two years have gone by and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it, yes, I am.

To make it simpler, let’s start with the daily goal and the first big goal. 
A shitty first draft in one year.
250 words or 30 minutes writing time every day.
And get over the chicken thing.
Guess it’s just as well I don’t watch TV anyhow, right? 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Material Girl

In my head, Friday is always payday, even though I actually get paid at the middle and end of the month. I have a vexed relationship with money—love it! want it! not willing to be an accountant or whatever to earn more of if when I can read books and talk to students instead! but sad about that sometimes too (like when Laura’s tuition bill comes due). It’s funny that when I was in college I was absolutely insistent that I would make my career choices on what I loved, not how much I would make, and that I wouldn’t later regret that. It sounds so dumb (and clearly is an indication that I was fortunate!), but I genuinely didn’t care about money then. I actually haven’t regretted my career decisions, even though they haven’t always been as financially rewarding as one might hope. The older I get, though, the more interested I actually am in money. Apparently I’m not the only one! Here’s a snippet of poem for today:
“Middle-Age Poem”
Grace Paley 
              With what joy
I left home to deposit one thousand, one hundred and nineteen
                    dollars in the bank
I was whistling and skipping
you would think I had a new baby and a new cradle
after so many years. . . . 
I love historical currency conversion—so Paley’s 1985 $1119 today would be $2414.44. If I had an extra two thou to deposit today, I’d be skipping and whistling too. :) At the end of the poem, Paley compares going to the bank to meeting a lover. I dunno know about that! But I do love the way Paley’s poem grapples with the way our desires change over life.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Catalogs and Hardware Stores

Cataloging is the fancypants poetic term for list-making, which must explain why I am drawn so frequently to catalog poems. Whitman of course was the master at this, his long lines unfurling like the longest coil of rope you could buy, just running right of the page. I don’t actually know much about the author of today’s poem, Nancy Willard, but her “A Hardware Store as Proof of the Existence of God” is another of my long-time favorites. I can’t remember now where I found it—I’d guess Poetry Daily, where I first really discovered the random loveliness of stumbling something online that you’d never have found otherwise, something that changes your life.

I’m noticing in thinking what to post for Poetry Month that the poems that come first to mind I’ve loved so much I copied them from their books, by hand or with the photocopier, or I printed them out to hang them on the refrigerator or on my office door at work. Something in the act of reproducing the text makes those words more permanent for me. In other words, those favorite poems have the physicality of artifacts, appropriately enough for this jewel of a poem that finds the divine in the aisles in every sod-smelling Ace or Lowe’s. The first few lines:
“A Hardware Store as Proof of the Existence of God”—Nancy Willard
I praise the brightness of hammers pointing east
like the steel woodpeckers of the future,
and dozens of hinges opening brass wings,
and six new rakes shyly fanning their toes,
and bins of hooks glittering into bees . . .
Willard evokes the sacred potentiality of the hardware store, every Phillips-head screwdriver or pack of Sweet William seeds waiting for the breath of the divine—in our hands and work—to bring this new world awake.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


I really don’t have favorite poems, any more than I have favorite children, but I do have one poem that I have carried in my calendar for years, one that I read and reread with joy every single time.  I’ve always loved Linda Pastan’s work—I read “Ethics” and wish I taught philosophy (and NOTHING else has ever made me wish I taught philosophy, let me tell you).  And her “Love Poem”! (Look! she and Neruda BOTH got away with writing “Love Poems”!  I’d never dream of trying!)  Pastan’s “Lists” though!  So many lovely images.  Such a wonderful idea, the list both worldly and transcendent.  A few lines from the middle of the poem:
And all the time the tree
is making its endless list
of leaves; the sky
is listing its valuables
in rain. My daughter
lists the books she means to read,
and their names are like the exotic
names of birds on my husband’s
life list.
I love the juxtaposition of the tree and the sky and the daughter and husband all making their lists.  I’m incredibly list oriented myself; I’ve made lists all my life—grocery lists, to-do lists, playlists.  In 2011 I started keeping a list of all the wonderful and funny and strange things my children say, and wow do I wish I’d started that one earlier.  But I am a very literal minded list maker, unlike Pastan.  Below, for your entertainment, are the books I was reading my last year of high school during my heavy science fiction and fantasy phase—don’t judge!  :)  When I read Pastan’s poems, though, I start to think maybe I should make a list of the titles of books I’ll never write, or the ones I wish someone would.  Pastan reminds me that lists are elegant little universes we draw on the backs of envelopes.  (Hey, I could use that in a poem!)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Love Poems

It’s National Poetry Month!  As usual, I had great ambitions—I would post a snippet from a favorite poem every day during the month of April!  In this parallel universe where I have time, I would make a tumblr with photos related to the poems!  I didn’t really even entertain the idea that I’d get the tumblr going (The Academy of American Poets does this better than I could anyhow).  But I did think I might manage the poems.  However, here it is,  April 2nd, and obviously I didn’t start yesterday.  So, let’s go with imperfect intentions and still get a wonderful poem out there. 

I have a great fondness for Pablo Neruda, and also, I’ll confess, some envy.  How does Neruda manage to use the word “love” so often and get away with it?  I know, I know, it’s the wool socks.  I love so many of his poems it’s hard to choose:  “Ode to My Socks” and “Ode to the Cat” are two that make me swoon with the desire to have written them myself, but his love poems just make me swoon.  My husband knows this, as you can see from my last Valentine’s present.

Here, then, the first few lines of “In You the Earth” from Neruda’s Love Poems
at times,
tiny and naked,
it seems
as though you would fit
in one of my hands . . .
Whew.  And yes, bring on the honeysuckle.