MFA or not?

April 13, 2015

Today I tried my best to study as a writer: I read a book about sentence construction, pulled out my highlighter, and did my best to discover the secrets of a sentence. Then, I fell asleep.

There are times when I lament the fact that I grew up in a world where MFA’s did not exist. If they did, I certainly was unaware, clueless about the world of fine arts. It wasn’t until after I’d worked in Boston, then founded my own business, and finally wrote my own companion piece that I realized people go to school to learn how to write. By that time, I had three kids under the age of five and going back to school was not an option. So, I read. I read and I read and I read. Then I went to a workshop and then another. I began to study blogs and authors’ websites. I went to more workshops. I began to edit and critique and finally, to teach.

The book on sentence structure wasn’t necessarily boring, but for me, I realized the best way to learn and improve my own writing was by reading other books within my genre. I studied books that I loved and even those I didn’t. I rewrote authors’ sentences, plagiarizing their rhythm, not to copy into my own work but to learn. And I did.

Not everyone needs an MFA. As the cliché goes—we all have our own path, a journey to follow. As a non-MFA graduate, I know that I’ll always be studying the craft of writing, forever a student. And, I’m okay with that. It’s a fabulous way to grow.


Night Writes

March 16, 2015

Like many writers, there are nights I can’t sleep. I ruminate; think about my characters, my kids, my teaching job, and sometimes, I’ll obsess about the little things in life—like world peace. Other nights, I compose long letters or witty, creative comebacks that I’d wished I’d said to people, but never did. And during a few sleepless hours, like tonight, I get up and write.

The middle of the night provides a dark, quiet space where mysterious magic can happen. When I find myself caught in the web of midnight mania, I go with it, letting go of plot and voice and structure and other writerly work. Instead, I write my stream of consciousness, fingers flying. Eventually, my eyes tire and I wander back to bed, falling into a deep sleep. The next day I read my words, many of them silly and useless, but often I recognize a nugget of creativity, inspiring better plot and voice and structure in my working manuscript.

I don’t recommend nightly trips to the computer, but on occasion they can prove useful, at least more useful than the running to do list. That never changes.


Books with Impact

March 1, 2015

About six months ago, I was nominated to list 10 books that impacted my life. Unlike the ice bucket challenge, this was one task I could handle. Although narrowing it down proved difficult, I managed to create a list of great reads that, after reading them, left me ready to step into action and/or personally changed my beliefs in some way.

In no particular order, here’s my list; six months late.

The Year of Magical Thinking: Joan Didion
Zeitoun: Dave Eggers
Phenomonal Woman: Maya Angelou
Stolen Lives: Malika Oufkir
Olive Kitteridge: Elizabeth Strout
Speak: Laurie Halse Anderson
Two Boys Kissing: David Leviathan
A Christmas Carol: Charles Dickens
Awakening: Cate Chopin
The Little Rabbit Who Wanted Red Wings: Carolyn Sherwin Bailey

I nominate YOU to share your list here!



February 18, 2015

If you want your life to be a magnificent story, then begin by realizing that you are the author, and everyday you have the opportunity to write a new page. -Mark Houlahan

Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up. –Jane Yolen

Being challenged in life is inevitable, being defeated is optional. -Roger Crawford


NaNo Reflection

January 26, 2015

Every November writers around the world collectively participate in a free on-line program, attempting to complete a 50K word manuscript. Developed as a non-profit organization, the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) offers tips, resources, a buddy program, and a place to chart your progress. Their mission statement states:
National Novel Writing Month organizes events where children and adults find the inspiration, encouragement, and structure they need to achieve their creative potential. Our programs are web-enabled challenges with vibrant real-world components, designed to foster self-expression while building community on local and global levels.

Writing in groups is not my forte, but last fall I decided to try it. I registered for NaNo and diligently added my daily word count to the website.

I did not reach NaNo’s goal of 50K words per writer, but I didn’t expect to. My goal was to blast a rough draft and create a working manuscript to redo and redo and redo. That, I achieved. I know my characters and am now wandering the pages with them, tossing challenges and obstacles their way.

NaNo isn’t for everyone, and I was hesitant to try. But I’m glad that I did. If nothing else, I exercised my writing and used the month as a practice. Writers must train like athletes and musicians. Baseball players don’t step up to the plate and hit a home run the first time, nor do musicians sit at the piano bench and play Mozart without practice. Everyone needs to head back to the keys and work.

If you’re a writer, write. Every day. Programs like NaNo, books with prompts, and workshops are great avenues to jumpstart one’s writing, but the most important part of writing is to write. If a doing a daily word count helps you focus, then count. If editing a page before writing another engages you, then do it. And if working with other writers in a collective arena inspires you to push forward, then by all means, consider doing NaNo next fall, but in the meantime, continue to write. Every day.


Best of 2014

January 5, 2015

In the spirit of last month’s year-end, best of lists, I’m doing my own top ten YA favorites that I read in 2014. Note that not all these titles were published in 2014 (although most were), but rather, I read them in 2014.

In no particular order:

I’ll Give You the Sun: Jandy Nelson
The Butterfly Mosque: G.Willow Wilson
Noggin: John Corey Whaley
Reality Boy: A.S. King
Two Boys Kissing: David Leviathan
Tease: Amanda Maciel
Belzhar- Meg Wilitzer
The Ocean at the End of the Lane: Neil Gaiman
Fangirl: Rainbow Rowell
Pointe: Brandy Colbert

Share Yours!


Stealing a Christmas Tree

December 13, 2014

We steal our Christmas tree. It’s the Grinchiest tradition ever and without a doubt has become one of our favorite nights in December.

How did it start? With sick kids, of course. When they were little, we’d get a permit from the forest department, go to our allotted spot, hunt for a tree, and bring it home. It was fun. Great even. But one year, the kids were too sick to venture far from home, so instead, we walked through our heavily wooded backyard, found a perfect tree, and chopped it down. Voila! A new and improved tradition had begun.

Because we live in a rural area, finding trees is not a problem. Thanks to global warming there are lots of sad, sick trees that need to be thinned or taken before they turn brown and die. At least that’s my rationalization. The hunt begins during long November walks. Before much snow arrives, I secretly tag a few trees. When it’s time to cut, we bundle in layers of warm wool, carry flashlights, and search for the tagged trees. A vote must be taken on the best one (not easy to compromise with five of us involved) and then, chop! We douse our flashlights as we skid across ice, carrying it back.

Invariable our stolen trees mimic Charlie Brown’s: they are tall and thin but perfect for hanging ornaments. Maybe it’s our act of civil disobedience, or maybe it’s our rationalization that the tree will die of disease, that eases our conscious. But at this point, the crime has become a Christmas tradition.

What does this have to do with writing? Nothing at all.

Happy Holidays.




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