Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Semester

During my last year of high school, I had the greatest class possible: an independent study in which I did nothing but write.

I was 17 years old and working on a novel. (Yes, I was overly ambitious; to this day, that novel remains unfinished for many reasons, but I hope to complete it in the near future.) Somehow, I managed to talk an English teacher into signing off on the project, and she made a permanent hall pass which allowed me to travel to and from the library during third period each day. While she taught an introductory creative writing class, I sequestered myself in a quiet corner of our high-ceilinged media center--in the literature section, where few students dared to stray. For fifty minutes each day, Monday through Thursday, I wrote, by longhand, until I filled my personal quota (three hand-written pages). On Fridays, I went to the school's business office and Xeroxed my manuscript, turning the copies in for credit while retaining the original so I could work over the weekend. 

That semester was one of the greatest of my academic life. It also helped set the stage for later creative writing study. I remain grateful for the opportunity and remember those days fondly. I'd like to start writing like that again. 


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Poets

This post won't be much more than a list, but I feel compelled to share with you the names of some poets I love (in alphabetical order, because that's how I roll).

Anthony Abbott
WH Auden
Joseph Bathanti
Ron Bayes
Robert Cooperman
Beth Copeland
Robert Creeley
e.e. cummings
Ann Deagon
Thomas Sayers Ellis
Ted Enslin
Becky Gould Gibson
Thomas Heffernan
Nancy Henry
Denise Levertov
Susan H. Maurer
Scott Owens
Sylvia Plath
Donna Pucciani
Carlos Reyes
David Rigsbee
Wallace Stevens
Walt Whitman
Fred Yannantuono

Check on them. They've never let me down, and I'm sure you'll find they have something for you, as well.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What I Read, and Why

As writers, we should all be readers first. 

This isn't idle sermonizing; rather, it's a fact of life. Without reading, you have no hope of becoming a successful poet, novelist, memoirist, et cetera. You must know what came before in order to forge a path forward. 

You can see the types of things I read in my own life by checking out my reading list on the tabs below the header of this blog. But that only covers two years of my literary life, and it only shows you the books I read--not the magazine/newspaper articles I encounter every day, which take up a surprising amount of time. But I'm happy to do all of it. I read like my life depends on it, because my writing life does.

Poetry. Biographies. Memoirs. Novels. Short stories. Essays. Picture books. Histories. Articles. I take everything in, and I urge you to do so, as well. Absorb everything. Ruminate on it. Enjoy it. And then go out into the world and write your own works using the lessons you learned by reading.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Adventures in Rejection: Poem Length

Like any other writer out there, I spend a great deal of my time sending out submissions to chapbook contests and literary magazines. Most rejection letters come back without comment, but I received one a few weeks back that had a handwritten note on the bottom: "Poetic observations: consider lengthening your poems and/or doing multi-section poems."

I understand that short poems do not adhere to everyone's aesthetic desires. However, I also know myself as a poet, and short poems are kind of my thing. I'm not saying this to be stubborn. Long poems do not come naturally to me, and I cannot force myself to write them. In fact, the longer my poems are, the weaker they become. This is a fact of my writing life that I've had to accept and embrace over the years.

My friend Ed called this rejection "a load of buffalo bagels," and I'm inclined to agree. Any good editor is sensitive to the fact that poets and story writers come in all varieties, and what should matter is the quality of the content, not the length of the piece. (Full disclosure: I feel safe saying that because I work as an editor myself.) 

I've written this post more for my own edification than to make any kind of definitive statement on the issue, but I hope it will help those of you out there facing suggestions that seem outrageous.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


One of my biggest problems as a writer is that I can't seem to focus myself well. I can sit down and work on a project for an hour or two, three or four days in a row. After that, the fire dissipates, and I can't make progress or regain the determination I had when I started.

I think this stems from the fact that I have too many ideas in my head and not enough time to commit them all to paper. Writers have been facing this dilemma since time immemorial, I'm sure. I wish they would reveal their motivational secrets to me across the years. Alas, that won't be happening, so I have to find my own way through the distraction.

For now, I'll start with a simple strategy: taking my writing tasks one day at a time. Perhaps it will prove an effective fix. Or maybe I'll skip ahead of myself like I tend to do. We'll just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

On Permission

A nutritionist changed my life.

Michelle (just look at how adorable she is, guys!) and I worked together in 2010-2011. One of the most important things she taught me is that I need to give myself permission to eat: I am free to enjoy my meals, and I must tell myself that it is acceptable to do so.

I promise I'm going somewhere with this that will benefit those of you who happen to be writers. Stick with me.

When writing about your own life, there is a fine line to be walked: how much of this story can I tell before I being infringing upon the rights of the others who populate my tale? Should I clear that second chapter with Mom? Will my best friend from high school be upset that I described our exploits in detail even though I changed her name and identifying characteristics?

Sometimes, even though we are the main characters of our own stories, I think we get lost in the shuffle. Of course it's important to be respectful of the people you discuss and take your role as the narrator seriously. But I also believe that we must give ourselves permission to discuss the things that happened to us.

This could be anything, from a traumatic encounter with a gecko to the first time you went to a funeral with an open casket to how you discovered you were allergic to peanuts. And we are not required to relate each detail or describe every event in our pasts. However, acknowledging that you COULD share your experiences if you chose to do so is important.

Just like Michelle wanted me to realize it was okay to say, "Yes, Cate, you may have that brownie," I want you to know it's all right to say, "Yes, I may write about this thing." It could be that doing so frees you of hang-ups you didn't know you had.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Mystery Scar

I have a scar on my right index finger, and I'm not sure what it's from. Not the Alfredo incident--that was my thumb. The cat that bit me when I was in kindergarten didn't leave a mark that I recall.

The lingering sense that I should remember the source of this blemish haunts me. It appears to be a recent injury, sustained within the past year or two. At the time, I must have told myself I'd recollect the moment each time I looked at my hand. Now it's gone, faded into the hazy place between useless things I learned as an undergraduate and important things I didn't write down as a graduate.

Maybe I stabbed myself with a fine-tip pen by mistake. It could be a place where I scraped myself with the head of a screwdriver as I assembled my big-girl furniture (bed, desk, sofa). Knowing me, it's likely to have come from an open flame.

Little pink dot, shinier than the surrounding flesh, won't you reveal your secrets?