Are You Okay?

Who knew three words could have such significance?

My kid is genetically enhanced and she and I do a daily check in. I learned that at her former school-Junior High-they had this note on their desks/work areas. It looked like several index cards put together. It was laminated and big enough to see on all the work spaces from anywhere. Three words:

Are you okay?

Once a day, she will sense something and ask me, “Are you okay?” Somehow, her little voice brings perspective to everything I’m doing. I take a moment to stop and self evaluate. I come into the moment.

“Mom’s okay. Are you okay?”

A few years ago, my sister and I went to our youngest sister’s midnight party. It was out of state and my kid stayed with my brother in law and his two kids (with my sister). He was having a rough time with someone following directions (house full of kids under 13 at the time…yeah). So, my kid waits until he’s alone and sitting down. (He said he was tired). She walked over and asked him, “Are you okay?”

He said that one little expression…one small question really helped him in that moment.

While you are doing Nanowrimo, here’s the secret-lean back in your chair, once in awhile and ask yourself, “Are you okay?” You can even call up someone or ask a stranger across the table at a write in, “Hey, are you okay?”

You’d be surprised at how it works wonders.

The infamous “Are you okay?” from my kids desk.
It is now on my fridge with my magnet from Italy.

Dress for Success and other tips

You’ve started Nanowrimo. Here’s a few tips from everywhere to keep you going-at least to keep my head in the game, anyway:

1. Dress for success – for one day or two, dress like the writer you want to be. At least this is what they said on Write Minded. Interesting enough but how about…

2. Dress like your character-seems like more fun, right? Just become fully engulfed in your character all day. Be that person. Writing a male protagonist or MC? Act like your dude would act.

I would straight up purge every damned day during Nanowrimo if I could…

3. Don’t get hung up on numbers- I use Scrivener. It drops a number count every time I do or type anything. Sure, we are all trying to reach 50K but don’t force it. If you say to yourself that you are going to write exactly 1667 words every time you sit down…nah. When you don’t reach the goal, you will be upset with yourself. Do what you can, it will all fall in place, trust me.

4. Go to a write in-In DC, there are so many places to go for write ins. Try to go somewhere you’ve never been or a part of the city you e wanted to go to but never had the time. The bus or car ride over should inspire you even more. Seeing different people, immersing yourself in different places will be inspiration enough.

5. If you go to a public place-take headphones. For real, there’s nothing like being in the middle of a scene and a baby starts crying or there’s a tantrum being thrown. Be vigilant of your surroundings, but be sure you can also work.

6. Get proper rest and eat-However many hours of sleep you need a day, get it. Be sure you have enough food in your belly to write and always take snacks. There is nothing worse than being in a sprint and your stomach growls because all you’ve had was a cup of coffee and a Madeline and it’s three in the afternoon.

7. Your mental health matters-I get it. You entered this thing to write 50,000 words. You’ve made announcements on Twitter, Facebook and wherever that you will be back in December. Yet, you start falling short. Don’t stress. Nanowrimo has several other events during the year where you can shine. Just because you didn’t make it this time, doesn’t mean you won’t ever make it. I think I didn’t make it the first to Nano’s I did.

That’s all I got. Hope you are getting it in and I hope this helps.

Yeah…gotta love November

Take care…

Go With Your Gut

I decided to write a novel for my Nanowrimo.  I wanted to incorporate witches and magic into my novel. A few of my friends said that I needed to have a magic system. Not just magic but an entire, functioning magic system.  I freaked out fully. I decided to abandon my project. All the work and planning will be flushed down the toilet.

Then, I went to the Folger to see “I Put A Spell on You”. While I was there, I spoke to a practicing witch. Her name is Annie Finch. She was there to read from her book called, “Spells”. So, after an introduction, I pulled her aside and asked her if I could talk to her about “witch stuff”. Considering my sister introduced us (as it was my sister’s program), she didn’t have a problem.

a subtle nod to Deborah Harkness (book is from 1647)

I explained to her that I was writing a book…blah blah…magic system…is it really necessary.  She looked at me. Like, really stared at me. I explained, “You know, like if you are a water elemental and you pull water from somewhere, then there has to be an after effect, no or yes?”

She was confused. She laughed and said, “No. you don’t need any type of system. None of the witches I know have this entire ‘magic system’. It’s usually a dab of this here and a dab of that there but no system.”

I felt a weight lifted. I was relieved. She saw the look on my face and laughed. We made small talk and I voluteered to send her some of the stuff I was working on…I mean I have an actual practicing witch willing to look at my stuff. (This goes to the credence that you need to do your damned research people!)

me in straight up stalker mode with the super cool Annie Finch

The next day, at the bus stop, one of the women I chat with-when we see each other-told me her roommate was a practicing witch. Just for shits and giggles, I bounced the magic system off her and she said the same thing, “Uh, no. There’s no need for all that.”

All the research, all the Pinterest pages and all that stress was for naught. I talked to a voracious reader and he told me that Jim Butcher has a wizard in his books that simply says simple spells. He also has “Laws of Magic”.  It’s not all that complicated.

Next time, as my sister says, “Go with that inner  critic, the inner frustrated teacher and make your edits and corrections there.”

Nanowrimo is Upon Us…

I’ve planned the book. I’ve written out everything. I even made a Pinterest page for inspiration but somehow, I’m not feeling it.

Yeah, I’m not feeling Nanowrimo. I’ll do it. I believe one of the texts I read says to basically write, even when you don’t feel like writing.

I have no advice to offer except this-take care of yourself.

Writing can be lonely. You and your brain are allowed to create worlds. You even live in them while you work on spilling the words on the page. But, it’s just you. So, since Nanowrimo is all about writing for the month of November uninterrupted-check out some Nanowrimo events! Don’t feel like you need to sit inside and write alone. Hell, go to a write in and talk to other writers-just make small talk and see where it goes.

I have an accountability person. She is going to hold me accountable for my writing and I’m doing the same for her. Like a check in buddy. Because, I have to say right now, I’m not feeling it.

And that is the secret to everything. I know I’m not feeling like writing (as I write this post like a gun is being held to my head). I feel like I’m forcing myself to do everything or anything. I’m taking a brief break from class, work and responsibility. Tonight, I’m going to see an event at the Folger Shakespeare Library. (See all this below)

I Put a Spell on You

Annie Finch and Kiki Petrosino

Annie Finch and Kiki Petrosino

Monday, October 28, 2019, 7:30 pm

Folger Theatre

Two poets explore the realms of witchcraft and womanhood in all seasons of life. Accompanying the reading is a display of rare books on witches and magic from the Folger collection at 6:30pm.

Annie Finch is a poet, translator, librettist, editor, and critic. Her books of poetry include Spells: New and Selected Poems and Calendars, shortlisted for the Foreword Poetry Book of the Year Award. She is also the author of The Body of Poetry: Essays on Women, Form, and the Poetic Self.

Kiki Petrosino’s three books of poetry are Witch WifeHymn for the Black Terrific, and Fort Red Border. Recipient of a Fellowship in Creative Writing from the National Endowment for the Arts, and an Al Smith Fellowship Award from the Kentucky Arts Council, Petrosino is a Professor of Poetry at the University of Virginia.

Hopefully, this will pull me out of my writing rut. I’m going with a fellow writer and she’s a good person. She’s got a relaxing energy around her.

One other thing-here’s some writing advice from Neil Gaiman. He seems like a really nice guy.

Take care.

Let Me Tell You About the Literary Festival

I had a reading at the Cleveland Drafts Festival. It was over Columbus Day weekend. I had fun and really enjoyed it. I heard other writers and poets read their work in the Larchmere area of Cleveland. (Larchmere isn’t a suburb-it’s more like a small section of the city with a name)

The venues were interesting. The one venue I thought was the most unique and the coolest was the auto garage. Yes! They actually had a reading in a real life auto garage. It wasn’t very warm, but it was the intent that was good. The place was super packed. There are pictures, but I’m sitting behind a pole, so I can’t be seen. The one thing that can be seen are the really cute boots I wore.

My reading was in Larchmere Tavern. People were eating on one side of the Tavern and the other side of the Tavern was for the reading. I wasn’t nervous. I was completely cool. I met the organizers and they went over my bio. I sat in the back and reviewed my work. Everything was super kosher.

Then, my family arrived. “Stay cool.” I tell myself, “Just be cool. You got this.”

I was super surprised when my sister showed up. I wasn’t sure she and her fiancee were coming. He’s a big guy. Stay cool. My mother and father came (they have never heard me read) and my super cool cousin and her super cool husband were also there. Another friend came-she surprised me and I was very happy she came.

I’m super cool. I’m waiting for my intro. I’m walking up to the microphone when my sister yells, “THAT’S MY SISTER!” When I became audible property of someone, my nerves kicked in. My hands started shaking. I swear the make up melted off my face. The sound guy fixes the mic and it’s right in my nose. Great, now I’m nose breathing into the microphone.

“Turn to the side,” he whispered.

Sideways booger projections, nice.

I start reading. All the words are a jumble on the page. Nothing is working right-my mouth, my eyes or anything. I take off my glasses. Okay, not much improvement, but I can roll with it.

I start reading. I was nervous at first (my father said it showed). An aside-I took a freaking speech class! Two of them! It’s like all that college knowledge was gone! Anyway, I’m reading. I’m lost in the words. I start making different voices and then it’s over.

notice the side reading…I listened!

Long pause before applause. I later discovered that some of the dudes were freaked out but the women could relate. (The story was a woman is haunted by her screaming child.) One woman told me, “You know when a kid has colic? Yeah, I’ve had them thoughts.” Honey, we all have had those thoughts.

me and Eles Jackson (thanks girl!) Check out my Poe shirt. Yeah, I rep Poe!
my dad doing the dad thing. my mother seems to be allergic to cameras.

I went out for drinks with my cousin and crew. After it was all over, I arrived home by 10:35 pm. I thought it was much later, but it was enough time for me to wind down and go to bed.

bye sobriety! Sex on the Beach that kept replenishing itself…somehow

Given the opportunity, I would definitely go back up to work with Twelve Literary Arts or Cleveland Drafts any time. It’s great to go home and see your city as an adult. I was able to see the literary community is alive and thriving in Cleveland, Ohio.

I am also Cleveland proud!!

Critiques without Tears (part 2)

(being published earlier than normal-by popular request!!)

Then, it happened…

I joined not one but THREE different critique groups. Oh, my disease to be liked and to please overcame any rational thought. I tried to do the run around and help everyone because I was getting what I wanted, what I thought I needed-FEEDBACK!

People actually cared about my work.

But, there comes a day when you sit back and ask yourself, “Is it worth it? Is all of this madness really worth it?”

Okay, there’s a critique group that met in a government location (I’m trying to give as little description as possible here to keep it vague). It was cool. They were late. Super late. And they whispered. I have tinnitus. It was a battle of the constant ringing in my ears versus the whispers of the group. I liked the group but goodbye.

Another group-late, late, late and off topic. I loved the conversations and the off topic but I really wanted to discuss writing. They were a fun group but man, I have never seen so many late arrivers in my life! I mean what is it with arriving late?! I get it, we all have jobs and kids, but hell, if I can make it…

Third group-on time, prompt, articulate but semi serious. Loved them but, I mean, semi serious says it all. I had to take a step back from them.

So, as my dad says, let’s get to the gravy of this-

Critique groups are interesting and fun. The key is to find one that fits you. Find the one where you don’t feel like critiques are personal attacks. One of these groups felt like straight up attacks on my writing and me, directly. I sat through a few meetings but I could not take it. How can I leave a group thinking I’m better (or at least a mediocre writer) after being faced with such hostility?

I did my due diligence. Now, I’ll tell you what I have learned:

If you don’t feel comfortable, find another group. This is the most important rule. Sometimes your instinct is yelling in your ears to leave and you may think, “Well, this is kinda the only group I could find…so I have to stay.” No, you don’t! Get out! There are groups online, at local libraries, community colleges, hell-twitter and even Facebook!-just get out? Why? Because the next thing will happen-

Critique the work, not the person. This group you may be in-Let’s call it “The Hate Group” will stress you. Every meeting causes some type of anxiety. You sweat bullets before you get there, hoping it will all work out. You get your critique back and it pretty much looks like they gave you the finger-with all the red comments. Every single line has a problem-verb tense, adverb use, adjective use…all of it is wrong. These people are not your friends. Then, you get the emails scheduling the next meeting and have a nervous breakdown. This is not your group, these people are not your friends.

Critique the work-I cannot emphasize that enough. Sometimes, when I’m doing a critique, I’ll let my brain turn to mush. Let me elaborate. I’ll pretend I picked this “book” up in a store and I’m reading it for the first time. I’m asking myself, “Does this make sense? Does the plot make sense? What about the characters, are they believable?” The last question I ask myself is: would I purchase this book?

If you answer no, offer some nice suggestions about how to make it better. Nothing like, “Dude, what the fuck were you thinking? Um, you’ve killed my brain cells because you suck.” This is the worst no of a response. You simply do not respond like this, no matter what.

I’m a Pisces, so I’m sensitive to shit like this. Continuing…

You want to find a way to make gentle suggestions like, “This works okay but maybe consider this”-and then write a got-damned appropriate response! If you read, “Joe dropped his shoes and walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge. He grabbed a loaf of bread, mayonnaise, bologna and set it on the counter. He opened the bread and….” You see where I’m going with this. Joe is making a sandwich. If this were me, I’d write something like, “I understand Joe is making a sandwich, and I think it may work better if you stated it. Also, and is being use a lot in the first sentence. You can make a few sentences like “Joe kicked off his shoes at the door. He walked into the kitchen. He opened the fridge and decided to make himself a sandwich.” I mean, this is really basic, but you get the gist.

Leave some awesome comments-When I give a critique, after I do my brain free read, I go back and look for lines that I like. Every writer, I don’t care who you are, likes to read something like-this line really works, I am enjoying where this is going or if you agree with the actions of a character, you can write something that says so. Personalization of comments shows that you paid attention. You are an attentive reader. You notice something so slight and beautiful that you share it. Trust me, these little comments may mean nothing to you, but when you are depressed and rereading your work where someone left you a cool comment, it lifts your spirits.

Be nice-I know, I know. I’ve been saying this all along. Put yourself in the person’s shoes you are doing a critique for. How do you think they feel if you wrote something like, “Ha ha! Have you ever thought about not being a writer? Dude, this blows so bad, I actually used your rough draft to pick up my dog’s shit AND wipe my ass!” Not so kind. Critique like you want to be critiqued. There is no law saying you have to like everyone’s work but you need to act like you have an ounce of sense in your head because what you sow, you will reap and that’s gonna be a bitter harvest.

As I wind this down, let me say this: When I was looking for a writing group, I studied all the editing stuff I could get my hands on-Pinterest, books, Ted Talks, professors and I found out a lot. I, personally, don’t like adverbs. Are they over used? Quite a bit. Does that make it wrong? Nah. Second, I don’t like these words: very, just and really, also not a big fan of that or using the word thing to describe something. I like showing and telling. I don’t like people who try to write smart using big words no one understands (I sigh as I write this because it happened. Also do the damned due diligence and get genders right! I mean, ask if you don’t know. And don’t use the language of the 50’s or even the 30’s. Yeah, a conk is a perm, but we don’t need to know how ‘hip’ you are.). Even though I don’t like these things, it doesn’t mean I need to impose IRON WILL on everything I critique. Some people LOVE adverbs. I do not. It is a struggle to get through adverby readings for me. I will walk away for a few days and come back. They aren’t my thing.

I realized I was imposing my IRON (Naruto like) WILL on all that I surveyed. “All the lands shall be banished free of adverbs! These words will get you in the stocks-there, very, really, just, in order, quite, get, got, thing and any -ing verb! Be free from this paper or be gone, dammit!” I have to step back and realize people will be people. I’ll point out something I see to the writer in a fun way, “Dude, you have used that 185 times and it’s only four pages. You may want to have a look.” I will not become grammar bitch and destroy a paper because of it. This is my own personal life lesson.

Finally, wrap up the critique. Give your honest opinion-without being a first class ass-in a few paragraphs at the end. Prepare yourself to explain why you feel that way in a group. If the writer wants to argue you down, stop talking. You can say something like, “You don’t have to agree with me. This is my opinion. Everything I said is not gospel.” (You don’t have to add the gospel part, I can be a bit sarcastic sometimes.)

Remember

  1. Critique the work, not the person– I may think you are a dick but I don’t take it out on the work. Then, I will be the dick.
  2. Don’t impose your IRON WILL over everyone
  3. If you feel uncomfortable or attacked, leave the group. Anxiety attacks aren’t cool when you have a meeting. Also, carrying and going through so much deodorant because you are sweating like a hooker giving confessional-is not cool. You should never feel like this. Ever.
  4. Find a few lines you like and leave a note in the margin. It makes a writer feel good.
  5. When you join a group, establish rules and boundaries. If you miss X number of meetings, you are out. (There can be exceptions-I had two deaths in my family in 3 months, I want to say, my brain was NOT in the game and the critiques I gave may have been ass? I don’t remember. I had funerals and mourning) Be on time. If you are going to be late, let them know. If you can’t make it, let people know ahead of time. Seems like semantics, but a little goes a long way.
  6. Wrap up the critique with a few paragraphs focusing on what you liked and what you think needs work. Notice I didn’t say-what you didn’t like. I said, “What needs work.” Or as Stewie Griffin says, “The compliment sandwich.” An example, “Hey Tracy, I really liked the way you used plot as an integral part of the story. Also the theme of darkness really worked well. One thing I would have a look at is the number of times you repeat phrases like ‘and then he did’ or ‘she said as’. It was a bit distracting from the story. Another thing you may want to keep an eye out for is the word very. Goth can be very dark and very scary, but maybe stretch it out some and explain why instead of the very. Finally, I’m looking forward to seeing what Xander’s plans are for the future since his wife died and he moved into the family castle. I can see a lot of great things coming!” What i did was I showed that I read the story by including information at the end, I talked about theme and plot (very loosely) and my suggestions weren’t said with a lot of force.
  7. Do unto others and all that jazz. Again, how would you want to be critiqued? Then, critique in that way.

That’s what I got folks. Anyone that knows me, knows this is pretty much the truth. Otherwise, you can join my new club online writer’s group, inspired by the Little Rascals:

The new name would be: NO BS WRITERS CLUB: NO ADVERBS ALLOWED!
(I’m kinda joking but maybe I’m not. )

How to give better…critiques (Part 1)

When I joined my first critique group, which feels like years ago, I was green. I had no clue how to do a critique. I didn’t know how to do much of anything. I read directions…instructions and whatever I could get my hands on. I read Pinterest, I googled critiques and I was ready.

I also went first in my group. The critique was not great, not bad. But, you must remember that I submitted my first zombie apocalypse story to a small press and it was accepted. (To which a person told me-that never happens! Send it to me! I want to read it! They never did.) This was a chance to share my work with my peers and get some feedback.

I was a writer. A full fledged writer.

The way the critique went was everyone spoke, then you answer questions about the story, defend it or whatever. I think I gave too much information (like I always do). Looking back, I feel like a total ass. But hey, I also fell off my bike the first time I rode it, prompting my mother to take one of the training wheels. The one wheel I had was my crutch until she took it away and I was riding like a pro.

I’m not saying I’m a pro at this, but I did get better. I learned my groups pet peeves. I learned my pet peeves. My first group was fun. There was a really great sci fi story and when it was super duper good, the author goes, “I’m scrapping this shit and starting over.” It seems to be the way of my group. At some point, everyone scrapped something (except for me and another member). We had a good run. I could see our writing improving. It was great! I also got complacent.

A new member was added to our group. I’ll leave it at that. The person was interesting, attended two meetings (got one critique) and never came back. No great loss.

The group dwindled down to three of us (from five). I like to think we became close but things happened in our lives that caused the group to simply dissipate. I hear from two of the members once in awhile. I follow one on twitter. Ran into the temporary member joining another group and the other person dropped off the radar.

It was time to go back to having one on one critiques with a friend from Cleveland. She was cool and going through major life changes. Not bad, but good. She had a baby. And her world went upside down and right side up, then inside out. Having a baby will mess you up. You want to write but the baby wants to feed. You want to edit, baby has pooped the diaper. You want to read a book, baby wants you to read.

I went on Pinterest, signed up for editing software and tried to do things alone. It’s nothing like having that feedback from other people that keeps you going. Something about getting a positive little not scribbled in the margin saying, “Dude, I can so relate to this!” Those are the little things that make critiques.

I tried following all the guidelines and doing what I was supposed to do. It was like I was on drugs and needed a fix, walking around asking, “Will you read my story? Will you give me feedback?”

I reached out to other writers but everyone has a life, so I understand.

Then, it happened….

Who Are You Writing For?

I was listening to a podcast and one of the mini assignments was to ask yourself, “Who are you writing for?”

I sat for awhile. I’ve been thinking about it and came up with generic answers like- everyone or myself or people like me or people that like books and lastly, my kids. Do I really want my kids reading about flaying someone alive or playing hide and seek with katanas?

We can rule out my kids. I’m not writing for the haters. People that like to rip other people’s stuff apart while they are working on their “masterpiece” that will never be ready because…just because.

I’m not writing for closed minded people. I have been around a lot of racist black and white folks. These are very narrow minded people. Ask me about my teen years some day, if you are feeling dangerous. These people don’t want to see anything like interracial relationships, let alone interracial friendships because in their mind, you (or whomever) is betraying their race. Bye racists!

Now, who does that leave? Dudes? I have had a lot of guys read my work and like it. Which is super cool. I get a good reaction from dudes. Let’s add “dudes” to the writing pile. Except the time my dad read my worked and promptly called my sister to see if I was okay. We can take dads off the list. They give it a college try but end up concerned about your mental health.

(Imagine me doing that wiping thing with my hands)

Now, do we add chicks? Here’s the deal-some chicks just don’t get me. They don’t get my shit or have soooo many questions that my eyes roll back into my head when I try to explain it. But I do have some chick friends that are awesome and read my shit. Let’s add open minded, non critical chicks to the list.

Notice, dudes and chicks are not black or white. They are just dudes or chicks.

Moving on.

My friend told me she was going to or kinda accidentally used my work in her classroom. It was a super short story under 2000 words. I’m gonna reach out and add teachers to the list.

Okay dude from the “Write Minded” podcast, I know the show was a good while ago, but I’ve got my list: open minded chicks, dudes and teachers.

Oh, and anyone reading this blog post because you fucking rock!