And There You Have It.

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“All you need to be a writer is perseverance, a low-level alcohol dependence, and a questionable moral compass.”

–Anna Kendrick

And there you have it.  All you need to be a writer.  I already adore Anna Kendrick, but this just made me extra happy.  I guess I’d better work on my perseverance.

J

Meh.

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This week has been incredibly long.  I blew out a tire on Tuesday, which I don’t have time to do anything about until Monday.  My new computer crashed.  I don’t need it because I still have the old one which seems to be working perfectly well (despite my concerns that it was going to crash at any moment about a year ago, right before I got the new one).  My biggest concern with that is that I had a few documents on the new computer that were not saved anywhere else: one was the journal I’ve been keeping up for the past year (which was mostly me bitching about things I don’t want to think about anymore, so it might actually be better if that was gone) and the other was the Word version of the final version of my thesis.  I do have the Word version of what I submitted as my “final” manuscript in packet 4 and I have the PDF of the actual final version that I submitted for digital archive with Goddard, so I do have my most recent changes, it’s just a matter of combing through that for the handful of typos and stuff that I fixed and applying them to the older Word version.  I don’t want to do that.  I don’t really have a need to do that.  All I really need my thesis for now is deciding what to read for my graduate reading at Goddard in a few weeks, which I can do from the old version or the PDF.  On top of these major issues with my technology, I’ve also been working about double what I usually do and trying to prep for Christmas.  It has kept me very busy and in a rather non-creative mood.  With my brain not in the mood to write–and with a mountain of books still to read to meet my Goodreads goal for the year–I’ve been focusing on reading as much as I possibly can.

I have finished six books already this month, among them are three audiobooks, two manga, and a novel I’ve been very slowly working my way through for the past year or so when I’ve had free time to read for fun.  I still need to finish 11 books to meet my goal of 30.  When I first started doing the yearly reading challenge, it was my plan to start with something somewhat manageable and then increase my reading goal each year.  I’ve been stuck at 30 for the past few years and only just managed to reach it at the very last moment, so I haven’t increased it.  Reviewing my past challenges, I see now that I’ve been doing it every year since 2011 and it has been set at 30 every year.  I didn’t meet my goal the first two years, but I did 2013-2015 and I am determined to make it again this year.  Having to read for school has been both a help and a hindrance to meeting these goals.  It does require me to read a certain number of books each semester, but I’ve also gotten stuck reading a number of books I didn’t like, so I didn’t quite push myself to the end, so I would spend a good chunk of time working my way through 300 pages of something, then give up because I had a deadline to meet and once the paper was in, then I just put it book on my “currently reading” shelf and moved on to the next thing I had to read.  Those reading assignments plus all the piles of homework and the crap with changing jobs and everything else hasn’t left much time for reading for fun (and it’s left me burnt out, so when I do have free time, I spend it on Netflix or Facebook instead of reading like I probably should be).  So, now I am fighting my way through the remaining 11 books.  One of my biggest struggles with that was that I was already in the middle of two audiobooks (maybe three?) on my other computer and now that I can’t make it work, I can’t go back to my bookmarks and the biggest reason I wanted the new computer is that the audiojack on this one doesn’t quite work, so listening is hard to do.  But I’m making it work.  I found a collection of Richard Matheson short stories (previously known as Button, Button: Uncanny Stories, but now changed to The Box because of the movie by the same name which was based on the short story “Button, Button”) that I had been in the middle of, so I’m working on that, plus some more manga and a couple of new audiobooks.  I am very determined.  I have to read about one book every 1.36 days to meet my goal.  That’s not hard.  Not at all.  If you don’t hear from me this time next week, it’s because I’m reading.

J

 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…

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Another week has gone by.  It is beginning to sink in that the semester is over as I am realizing that I suddenly have a lot more free time than I would have anticipated, even with taking on extra shifts at work.  Perhaps I’m missing something important…  Now that the pressure of pushing myself through the end of my final semester is over AND I’m mostly recovered from that push, I’m starting to think about what I might write now.  I have decided that the world of Zinthe needs a break–or perhaps that I need a break from it–so I have begun considering what I might write now.  I have my superhero series that has been percolating for a few years and sitting on the back burner during most of my time at Goddard.  I have Drowning Sarah, which was very nearly my thesis and which I think still has potential–if I can only figure out what the actual story is.  And then I have a few jagged pieces of ideas that I have begun to play with in my head.  I am considering starting a new novel.  I have also begun thinking about doing a collection of short stories.  I’ve really only written one short story, unless you count The Girl with the Corn Silk Hair, which I don’t, because it was really just notes on backstory to myself.  I’ve been told short stories are a good way to break into the publishing world because they’re quick and you can publish a lot of them and you have many options for where to publish them, so if you can get them written and get them published, then you start getting your name out there, which is a boost to your writing career in general.

Now that I don’t have the deadlines and the pressure of school to keep me writing, I have to find a way to keep myself motivated on my own.  I have graduation coming up which will give me a few days of residency, the last one I will have a Goddard which is a bitter-sweet thought.  Residency always has a way of getting me excited to write again and bringing up great new ideas, so I want to be prepared to take advantage of that.  I’m also considering going to the AWP conference in February, which I hope will keep me excited and motivated to write.  So, my goal over the coming weeks as I prepare for graduation, is to gather my writing ideas and get a few that interest me and if not get started on writing, then at least have my notes on them and my ideas ready to go so that I will be ready when the muse strikes.

I can do the school thing.  I’m very good at the school thing.  But I don’t know how to do the writer thing, not as a realistic career option.  I’m striking out into new territory.  Goddard has done amazing things for my writing and given me the tools and a new perspective to go out and really write, but I’m not sure how to keep myself working on it without the regular deadlines of packets or the invaluable feedback from advisors.  I don’t know what to write to get myself published and it isn’t really a career if I don’t get myself published.

So now, the real challenge begins.

J

The Culture is in the Details

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Now that the semester is officially over, I am taking a brief hiatus from writing to have a breather and catch up on all the other life stuff that lived on the back burner during my last year–and particularly my last semester–of my graduate program (like making enough money to pay my bills).  As such, I don’t have much in the way of new news or ideas on writing, so I thought I’d share my final (and 48th, I can’t even believe I wrote that many) annotation.  I think the information is particularly useful if you’re writing about a culture that your readers may be unfamiliar with as might be found in a historical or speculative (especially fantasy) setting.  It could also be useful for stories set in the present world that you hope will be read in the future, or set in one culture that may differ from that of the anticipated audience, to ground readers who may not be familiar with the culture of the story.

 

“The Culture is in the Details”

The Epic of Gilgamesh* is a story found written in cuneiform on ancient clay tablets discovered in Nineveh during the mid 19th century (9).  It was written in the distant past by and about a people none of us today would know anything about, were it not for the endurance of ancient writings like these.  This story is a heroic epic that, in many ways, could sound like any other heroic tale from ancient history and many modern ones as well, except for the details that ground us in this particular ancient culture.  Many of these cultural details can be found in the introduction of Enkidu, who becomes close friends with Gilgamesh, the hero of this tale:

So the goddess conceived an image in her mind, and it was of the stuff of Anu of the firmament.  She dipped her hands in water and pinched off clay, she let it fall in the wilderness, and noble Enkidu was created.  There was virtue in him of the god of war, of Ninurta himself.  His body was rough, he had long hair like a woman’s; it waved like the hair of Nisaba, the goddess of corn.  His body was covered with matted hair like Samuqan’s, the god of cattle.  He was innocent of mankind; he knew nothing of the cultivated land.  (62-63)

From this, we learn that in this culture, the act of creation may be done by a woman: the goddess Aruru (62, 120).  As so many cultures are patriarchal, it is an interesting glimpse into the perception of a woman’s responsibilities and value within this society.  Aruru creates this man from water and clay, reminiscent to the creation of Adam in Christian lore.  This would suggest similar influences to those of Christianity, but it is clearly not the same culture because the creator here is a woman while the god of the Bible is a man.  In this society, women are held with a certain amount of respect for their creative powers.  In this description of creation, there is also mention of Anu, the sky god (120).  From this we understand that this culture has multiple gods.  In this passage, we can see that there is a balance of male and female influence for the act of creation, which shows us that the reality of the human experience is reflected in the gods of this people.  It is also likely that they value the coupling of men and women for the creation of future generations.

This passage brings up Ninurta, the god of war.  War must be an important to these people as they have a specific god that represents it.  We assume that warriors are valued in this society because the storyteller points out the similarity between this man and the god of war and describes this similarity as “virtue,” so we see that being warlike is a positive trait for these people.

The passage describes Enkidu as having “long hair like a woman’s.”  This gives us a better picture of the people in this culture.  Women have long hair while men keep it shorter.  It is clear that the fact that this man has long hair is unusual, because the storyteller felt the need to point it out and also describe it as being similar to a woman’s rather than a subset of men in the culture.

We learn about Nisaba, the goddess of corn.  We know that Nisaba is a woman and that she wears her hair long as do the human women of this culture.  Corn is also an important good in this culture, because there is a goddess specifically for it, rather than one for all crops or all plants.  It could be that corn is their main crop, or it could be that all the other crops have gods or goddesses as well, but this particular one was pointed out because of the hair.  This small detail shows us a bit about this culture, but also makes us wonder about the bigger picture.

Samuqan is described as the god of cattle.  These people must raise cattle in addition to their crops, so we can begin to picture what their country may look like: a combination of fields and pasture for cattle.  We can assume that these people consume meat, either cows or a similar type of animal, because this is the most common reason for raising cattle.

In the final sentence, we see the divide between civilization and the wilds.  Enkidu is described as wild in appearance and now we can see that those living among beasts can be compared to them.  Men are not born civilized, but must learn to be tame.  These people consider themselves to be properly civilized and this is valued.

Just from this one passage, we can learn a great deal about Gilgamesh’s people.  Along with introducing a primary character of the story, it shows us the religious and industrial experiences of these people.  Using techniques such as these can help ground new readers in an unfamiliar world.  By using cultural details to describe this new character, we get a clearer picture of the person in question, but it also serves to bring us deeper into this new world in a straightforward way.  Following this example in our own work will allow us to use a simple character description to serve multiple purposes and quickly immerse our readers in the new and unfamiliar settings of a new world.

*The Epic of Gilgamesh. Trans. N. K. Sandars. London: Penguin, 1960. Print.

 

I hope some of you have found this post useful.  Along with my planned regular posting, I intend to start posting some of the annotations I’ve been working on over the past three years.  I’ll try to post the ones I think are more interesting or that are pertinent to what I’m working on at the time.  If any of you readers out there have questions about any particular aspect of the craft of writing, send them my way.  I bet you anything I’ve got an annotation that will apply.  If not, I’ll write you one.

Happy reading, happy writing, until next time,

J

 

Loss for Words

Aside

On this, the one year anniversary of losing my writing partner, I am reminded of Alex & Emma.

“There are some things that are nothing more than what they are.  They’re not meant to last.  They just take their place in your heart and make you a little smarter the next time.”

–Emma Dinsmore

J

Time

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“Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”
― Marthe Troly-Curtin, Phrynette Married

“Time is marching on
And time is still marching on”
― They Might Be Giants

Clearly I suck at staying on track of things.  Maybe when this semester is actually over, I’ll be better about it.  In the meantime, time is still marching on.

J

 

Just Do It.

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“Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.”

― Augusta F. Kantra

*     *     *

Also:

 

And hopefully that is the kick in the pants I need to get this finished…

J

What’s In the Box??

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The cat lives.

My manuscript passed.

It is a relief and now I can get back on track with everything else.  I went into the semester with the intention of graduating, making it clear to my adviser and second reader that I needed to graduate this semester.  When I sent off my manuscript, I was worried, but I felt good about the work I had accomplished.  I have been going about this semester with the expectation that my manuscript would pass in Packet 4 and that I would be graduating in January.  I had some brief but very strong doubts that this might not be the case, but in the end, everything I prepared for and expected worked out.

So.  I still have a handful of documents I need to finish, all of which are due in the mail on the 10th (because the post office is closed on Veteran’s Day).  Now that I put off much of that work in favor of rushing through the copy edits for the Pitkin Review, I have very little time to finish, but it is all still very doable.

With that in mind, I have a stack of work to do and it is quite late, so I am off to sleep, then a very long day of work which I hope will allow me some downtime to work on my homework, then a couple of days off in which I will dive into the last bit of work for my Master’s degree.

Even with my expectations going into this semester, it is hard to wrap my brain around The Last Packet.  But that is what I’m on.

Schrödinger and Other News

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I’ve had the feeling that the news would arrive today.  Therefore, I have been avoiding my school inbox all day.  I finally decided to be responsible to check it because I am also waiting for a manuscript I’m copy editing that was supposed to come last night and still wasn’t there this morning and I really need to get working on that.  As I feared, at the top of my inbox was an email from my adviser, subject: “Manuscript Response.”  Nothing in the subject or the body of the email that gmail previews gives me any clue as to whether or not I’ve passed.  Until I open that email and read her full response, I have simultaneously passed and failed my graduate degree.  As long as I wait, as long as I don’t open that email, I can go on believing that I’ve passed and I can hold onto hope.  But also, not knowing, not opening that email, holds me in a place of limbo.  Once I open that email, I will be forced to act in one way or another.  Once I open that email, I will know if my manuscript passed and I will know what I need to do next.  Either way, it’s going to be a difficult road.

If I passed, then I will finish out this semester.  I will finish my lengthy and emotionally raw Process Paper and the last bits of graduation paperwork.  I will go to Vermont in January and I will receive a document stating my completion of a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.  I will no longer be a student.  I will once again have to figure out what to do with my life, what my next step will be.  I haven’t had time to properly study for the GRE, so I won’t be starting a new program in the fall as I had hoped.  My manuscript, even passed, is no where near publishable, so I can’t jump into the world of being a full-time writer.  It’s completely open and it terrifies me.  I am a person who loves plans.  Everything is a plan.  But I don’t have a plan for when I finish this program.

If I failed, then I will be looking at an extension or a sixth semester.  I am exhausted.  As much as I love Goddard, I can’t push myself through another semester in this program and with all the work I’ve done this semester, I don’t see how any revisions I have left could require another full semester, not to mention all the paperwork I would have to repeat and the additional annotations I would have to do (I already had to do 3 more annotations than required to graduate by taking a fifth semester).  The only bonus of doing a full semester rather than an extension is that I am already cleared for a student loan to cover the semester while I would have to pay for an extension out of pocket.  Which brings us to the issue of an extension.  It’s a few thousand dollars that I absolutely do not have (I’m a starving artist on top of being a student; money’s a thing I kinda remember having in another life).  They do payment plans and I might be able to borrow the money elsewhere, but it will be tight no matter what I do.  An extension would also push of graduation.  Summer is a nice time for graduation, but all my friends will have graduated by then.  I was really looking forward to a January graduation because the last two holdouts from my original group that arrive January three years ago will be graduating then and I wanted to be able to walk with them.

As long as I don’t open the box, I don’t know.  I don’t have to move forward on one of these paths.  I can sit here in limbo and hope for an outcome and try to come up with more plans for either one, but it’s safer.  I have never been more afraid to open a box.

J

whats-in-the-box

Rededication and Habitica

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When I first started this blog, it was my intention to chronicle my creative process through my master’s program at Goddard College and throw in some writing tips and creative work along the way.  I think I started out pretty well, but I lost steam when I look my LOA and then when I came back for my third semester, life was insane.  I had just moved across the country, I was making up for a huge chunk I should have finished in G2, then I had all the G3 work to do, so I suppose I could have made time had I been really dedicated to it and had I had the routine down, but I didn’t, so I didn’t.  So now, now that I am nearly done with my program and ready to step out into the world as a Writer, I’ve decided it’s time that I take the blog more seriously.  I know I don’t have many/any readers right now, but it will be good for self-promotion to have something going already when I’m finally ready to publish and I want it to be a habit.

And speaking of habits, my sister recently introduced me to Habitica.  It’s magical.  For real, it’s an online game where you get points for adulting.  How cool is that?  So I joined up a couple of days ago and you set goals for yourself: regular daily things and other periodic things, good habits you want to develop over time, and a to-do list for onetime or irregular projects.  So I got myself started with some basic stuff and some bigger projects I want to work towards, and one of the regular things I want to build into my routine is keeping up with the blog.  So, for now, I have it set that I have to write in the blog every Friday and we’ll see how it works.  With that in mind and now that the semester is coming to a close, I’m not sure what I’m going to write about, so it may be a lot of random things.  I do want to have regular writing tips, just a way to share things I’ve learned and I want to keep up with the quotes, because I like quotes.  Otherwise, who knows what will happen.  I may end up with the kind of weird ideas that come up during NaNoWriMo because I’m forcing myself to write.

In any case, if there’s anyone out there who would like a post on a specific topic, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

Thanks for listening and stay tuned!

J