30 January 2012

The Curse of the Novel

I’ll just come out and admit it: I can’t write short stories.  It’s not for lack of trying. I’ve tried to write several short stories, when I was younger and in college. But they always fall into two categories, the first being absolute crap. These stories usually are choppy, uninspired piles of nothing that I probably will never return to. The second category, however, is the exact opposite.

I’m cursed. Whenever I write a short story that I actually like, for whatever reason, it just doesn’t work in such a short format. It needs to be a novel.

The first time didn’t seem like too much of a big deal. I was fourteen at the time, and had just written a little snippet of a scene, where a girl is dreading the end of the school day because she has to meet up with a boy whom she despises. It was only natural to start wondering who these characters were and why they were in this situation. So I started backtracking and crafting different plot ideas in my mind. Eventually, I had a novel.

The second time happened just a few months later. I’ve mentioned the manifesto of my teenage years as being a fantasy novel called Bleeding Life. Well, that, too, started as a short story, about a girl who falls for a mysterious young man who just so happens to be immortal (I came up with this long before Twilight came out, thank you very much). The short story ended with the girl being turned into the same breed of immortal being, but it seemed unfinished. What would happen to these characters now? This couldn’t possibly be the end of their story. There was so much, an entire world, in fact, to explore. The rest was history. I was cursed for a second time.

The third time, of course, happened almost a year ago, and unlike the first two times, I knew something was up from the very beginning. Although I had committed to writing a short story, there was just too much happening and I couldn’t contain it. While I was writing the first draft, I wondered if I should aim for a novella instead. But I kept going, finally curbing it at nineteen single spaced pages. It was long, to say the least. I knew I’d have a problem submitting it for my fiction class, so I spent one long, agonizing day trimming down the story so that it wouldn’t exhaust my classmates.

Despite its length, things within the story still happened too quickly. People who read it wondered why the characters would behave in certain ways, or give up information about themselves so quickly. I realized what was about a page and a half of sexual tension needed to be several chapters long in order for it to make sense. So here I was again, only this time the decision was not so easy. I was so worried that by turning this story into a novel, it would become watered down, not as strong as it was in its current form.

But eventually I conceded with my better judgment and took the leap. I’m still working on it, obviously, but I’m more committed to it than any other piece of writing that I’ve done before. And this time is even more different, because rather than expanding on a short piece to find out what happens before or after, I’m taking a completed piece and stretching it out to fit the novel format. It seems more like adapting a previous work into something different. I certainly would never give this up, but I just have to accept the fact that yes, I am cursed. And I may never write a proper short story.

26 January 2012

What’s in a Sexually Ambiguous Name?

Let me preface this by saying that the “What’s in a Name” blog was not supposed to be a two-parter. But as usual, things are beyond my control. Believe me, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

I was faced with a new character, one that wouldn’t even span the course of an entire chapter. Honestly, if I lined every character in my book up in order of significance, there would probably only be three characters less important than her. And yet, she was in need of a name.

Within the scene itself, she’s a very striking character. Almost like the female counterpart to my narrator, an adversary even. She shows up suddenly, challenges his attitudes, his beliefs, and serves as a temporary temptation. Basically, she doesn’t put up with his bullshit, which he finds incredibly sexy. So at least for this scene, this girl was important, and to give her some dignity, I had to name her.

Since I started writing my novel in early 2011, I have it stuck in my head that this is when it takes place, so I figured this 15-year-old girl was born in 1995. So I cruised the internet to my favorite name site, behindthename.com, and found the list of popular names in 1995. I scrolled past the typical names—Jessica, Ashley, Emily, Brittany, and my own name, which was #5—in search of a name that spoke to me.

My eyes stopped on #29: Madison. I liked it instantly. And not just because it was different than all of those stereotypical girl names, but because, like Jordan, the name could be either a boy’s or a girl’s. It seemed kind of perfect, to put both characters on the same level and watch them butt heads.

That would have been the end of it—the decision had already been made—but curiosity got the better of me. To the left of the list of girls’ names were the top 100 boys’ names for that year as well. I’m not sure what made me look at it at all. Some force of nature, it seemed, because then I just happened to see #29 on the boys’ side. It was Jordan. Those two names had been standing side by side the entire time, and I hadn’t even noticed. Madison was even more perfect than I had thought.

I can’t really explain why these things keep happening to me. I just kind of go with it. I’m sure someday I’ll be writing Part Three.

19 January 2012

The Poem Without an Ending

It’s an accepted fact among poets that a poem is never really finished, you just stop working on it. Even once a poem is published, the author can find some flaw within it and want to change it. It’s a lifetime commitment every time you put the pen to paper. 

It should also be said that I really, really hate editing. It’s such a grueling process that is the complete opposite of first draft writing. The first draft is usually quick and passionate. Editing is meticulous, boring. It’s work, basically. If I could avoid it the rest of my life, I would. But then I would just be writing for myself, because nothing would ever be good enough to be published. 

In my last semester of college, in lieu of one regular class, I signed up for a senior thesis project, which consisted of me working on a poetry portfolio that would be finished by the end of the semester. My advisor ended up being my poetry professor from the semester before, so he was at least somewhat familiar with my work and I was only slightly intimidated (I’m a shy, awkward person if you haven’t gathered that already). 

Usually things went the opposite of what I expected. The poems that I had spent hours, days, years, even, on were unfinished and not fitting for the portfolio. The little scribbling I had written about fingernails was perfect and just needed a title. And every time I thanked my advisor for whatever compliment he had just given me, he told me to stop thanking him because I should be more confident in my abilities. 

Every session I would usually bring in a new poem and he would read it silently with his glasses on the tip of his nose, and me sitting at the other side of the desk picking at my cuticles. Sometimes his review would be quick, other times we would go over it for the entire session. I brought in one poem that was supposed to be a satirical “last poem” to an ex-boyfriend about how I could never actually stop writing poems about him because those ideas are bound to come up. We literally spent two whole sessions on this poem, and in the end it was a completely different concept. 

I came up with an idea for a poem one day when I went over my boyfriend’s house and found a microphone in his bed. This was the exact same time that I was falling head over heels in love with my fiction, and I realized that we were sort of cheating on each other with our passions. So I wrote a poem about the instance, in which I tell him that I’m running away with my story, and unfazed, he asks if I want to hear his new joke. 

My advisor loved the poem, except for one thing—the ending. It wasn’t enough that I forget about our infidelities and decide to hear the joke, the joke had to begin at the poem’s ending. So I took my draft home and mulled it over for the next two weeks. I came up with something that I thought was perfect. My boyfriend had this joke about Kid Rock that he refused to retire despite how many times I told him that no one cares about Kid Rock anymore. So I ended the poem with him asking, “want to hear my new joke?” and I respond, “It’s not about Kid Rock, again, is it?” 

The new ending was met with dismay by my advisor. “It’s too topical,” he said. Well, ok, that was kind of the point, but you’re the expert. “It should be something classic, like, two guys walk into a bar…” My face was blank, but I was grimacing on the inside. Part of me just wanted him to write the ending, since he had no problem with completely rewriting my other poem. But it was my poem, after all, and I had to decide how to end it. 

So I put the poem aside, not satisfied with any concept of an ending. I figured I would work on other poems and eventually come back to it before the semester was over. Only I didn’t. It was always in the back of my mind as I did my editing and organizing. But there was never an ending good enough to do the poem justice. When I turned in my printed and bound copy of my portfolio, the poem wasn’t in it. 

I suppose this is the part where you want me to tell you how I finally came up with the perfect ending. Well, I didn’t. It’s almost a year later and the poem is still unfinished. You’d think it would be simple, and sometimes it is, but usually it’s more complicated than you could ever imagine. I know I’ll finish it eventually, but who knows when that will be? Someday, maybe, I’ll buckle down, hold my breath, and edit.

08 January 2012

Trade-Off: A Poetic Discovery

I know, I know, I’m not supposed to blog until Thursday! But this was just too fun to let go or forget. Let me start by saying that the Poem-a-day project has not been going well. Oh, I’ve been doing it all right, every single day of the new year. It’s just that none of them have been any good. Like, at all. I’m not even sure I can salvage these roughest of rough drafts. Yesterday, for instance, what started as a prose poem ended up filling almost the entire page and was pretty much just prose. I can edit it, sure, and I plan on it, because I know there’s something in there. But have you ever looked at the drafts for Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art”? It’s gonna be worse than that.

So today I was once again facing midnight without an idea for a poem. I mulled over various snippets of ideas, thinking of anything that was on my mind: work, my story, the cat, the show on Food Network I was watching. Nothing was sparking my creativity. In fact, I rarely find myself able to write poetry. I started thinking that it was almost like I couldn’t have it both ways. I can’t have fiction and poetry, at least not at the same time. Just like how I had given up fiction in my sophomore year of college, when I claimed it again (or it claimed me, rather) I had to give up the poetry. I know it’s not completely true, I have written some poetry since last February, but it’s not like it used to be.

Then I had the “aha” moment. That’s what my poem should be about. So I started scribbling. As the words flew from the pen, a line stuck in my head. I had written “the burn of poetry.” It sounded familiar. Hadn’t I written a similar line before? I browsed through the names of older poems saved on my computer, and one stood out in my memory—a poem called “Rock” that was written for a junior year poetry workshop. I searched for the line and found myself reading the encompassing stanza over and over again:

                        I’m not the same anymore.
                        I cannot dream up a thousand worlds,
                        struggling to be a novelist.
                        You’ve burned me into poetry.

Wow. When I wrote those words, the feeling was so true to me. And now I’ve done a complete one-eighty back into fiction, back into my dream worlds.

I kept writing my poem, thinking it would go on down the page, expressing my newfound devotion to fiction and the passion it has ignited in me. But as I ended the second stanza, I did something that I normally never do. I stopped. Usually I try to beat my readers over the head with my poems. But this poem seemed to complete itself before I could muddy it with too many flowery words. It was short and concise and, for a first draft, perfect. There will be some edits in the future, I’m sure, but for now just having written a poem that I like is immensely satisfying.

As of now, the poem is untitled. But I’m thinking something brief, something that won’t overdo it. Maybe just “Fiction.”

                        You never told me
                        what I had to give up just to
                        keep you. It’s as though
                        I can’t have it both ways,
                        can’t feel the burn of poetry
                        in my soul, can’t be myself
                        because every second is spent
                        trying to be you.

                        Would I trade it?
                        Ask me instead to remove
                        an arm. The result would be

05 January 2012


Well, it’s that time of year again. The time for delusions. For some reason, we equate the new year with new beginnings, new opportunities. But for the most part, these resolutions don’t last very long at all. I’m certainly no stranger to this. And along with your stereotypical goals like losing weight or cleaning the apartment (which I am halfheartedly, at best, considering), my major resolutions all revolve around my writing life in some way. 

Here goes…

  1. Blog every Thursday. First and foremost, the most important thing is to keep up with this blog. I haven’t been very good at it so far. And because in the past I’ve mostly blogged on Thursdays, I’m going to keep up with this trend. Part of my strategy is to plan out four blogs at the beginning of each month and get started writing them early. Procrastination is usually my biggest issue, letting the days go by and then Thursday comes without time or energy or a worthy idea. If I already have the ideas ready to go, then things should go much more smoothly from here on out.
  2. Tweet, tweet, tweet. When I started my Twitter account, it was mostly to follow my favorite celebrities, mainly the (almost!) entire cast of Criminal Minds. When I started planning my literary life, a friend told me that I should be tweeting at least five times a day. So that is my goal in the New Year. Whether it be about my writing accomplishments, witty observations, or nonsensical ramblings, I vow to tweet five times EVERY day.
  3. The Poem-a-Day Project. This one has been attempted several times before, but with such a concrete starting point, I feel like it will be easier to accomplish. It’s pretty simple: write a poem every day. It doesn’t have to be perfect or even good; it just has to be down on the paper.
  4. 100 Books, 100 Movies: I foolishly make this a goal every year, to read 100 books and see 100 movies throughout the course of the year. I have not once accomplished this despite several attempts. I feel this is important because you can be influenced by whatever it is that you are watching or reading. So again I will take on this task. The movies must all be ones I’ve never seen, but books can include rereads (mostly because I’m a rather slow reader and I would have to count for all that time spent).
  5. Get published. I don’t quite have a concrete schedule or outline for this one yet. I plan on spending the first couple of months doing extensive research on literary magazines—which ones are more accepting of new writers, which poems and stories will fit with what magazine. Then after figuring out where to send everything, it’s time to submit, submit, submit. I want my computer file of cover letters to be bigger than the one containing the scenes for my novel.
And that’s it. I know what you’re thinking. My resolution should be something like, finish my novel, or write a chapter a week. Something like that, right? Trust me, I know I won’t be able to keep up with something like that. It’s just something that I can’t push, and having these smaller resolutions seems much more practical to me.

With the exception of blogging every Thursday, I also plan on checking in with my other resolutions from time to time, possibly once a month, just to track my progress. Also, click here to see my planned reading list for the year, only 43 books long so far. Yikes!