Posted in Writing

A Summer of Words

Summer

Writing is like exercise, and I am out of shape.

Writing is difficult, at least for me. I’m a perfectionist and a procrastinator, who’s easily distracted by new ideas, cute animals outside my window, and chocolate. None of these qualities do a consistent writer make. I’m also a teacher, and during the school year I’m a slave to my job, spending so much time teaching and grading and planning and collapsing from exhaustion, that a rarely write.

It’s not that I don’t have time to write. I do. I could. Others do it, and I exist in a state of constant awe of those people. But I don’t. Yes, I can pen a poem now and then, blog a couple of times a month, and maybe work on a short story. But the deep dive into novel work? No, I can’t take that plunge. I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’ve quickly come up gasping for air.

HABIT

So, yes, writing is hard, and the longer I go without doing it, the harder it becomes. For real writing to happen, it must be a habit, and in order for something to be a habit, you have to start small. Anyone who’s ever tried to sprint without warming up first knows it’s a bad idea. You have to stretch. Build up your muscles.

That’s why I’m back to using 750words.com. This site’s monthly challenge has been the kick I’ve needed in the past, and I hope it will be the habit-builder I need now. On June 1st, I sat down at my computer (which was hard to do) and started typing (also hard). I used a prompt from my Storymatic cards, thought of a random scene in my novel, and wrote, sluggishly, for fifteen minutes or so before running out of steam. By that point, I had 295 words. And they weren’t good. I doubt any of those words will ultimately make it into my novel.

But I wrote them. And when I couldn’t take that scene any further, I stayed in the chair (which was the hardest of all) and kept writing. I wrote some questions about my novel (to be answered later), then I wrote some of this blog post. After an hour and twenty minutes in front of the computer, I finally got to 750 words. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t pretty. But I did it. And then I went for a walk, because actual exercise is on my summer list too.

DISCIPLINE

For me, discipline in writing requires discipline in all aspects of life. I’d love to be able to sleep until ten, eat junk food all day, watch some TV, and then sit down and write a couple thousand brilliant words, but that’s not how it works. I need to move, be outside, drink lots of water, and fuel my brain with inspiration if I’m going to bring my best, consistently, to the page. That’s why, in some ways, my summer routine is more vigorous than my school year one. It includes daily walks, yoga, or swimming, as well as a healthy(ish) diet and plenty of reading time, both for fun and for research. Equal amounts of coffee and water. Equal amounts of sitting and stretching. Fewer naps and more walks. No TV during the day and time to read the latest Writer’s Digest.

I will not be perfect. Far from it. But if I don’t even make the effort, I won’t come close to succeeding. Already this summer, I’ve been more active in brain and body than I have in weeks, and it feels good. There will be lazy days and gooey chocolate brownies in my future, but hopefully they will be rewards well-earned.

MOTIVATON

Writing is hard, so writers need motivation to keep going. There’s no point in sprinting if you don’t have a destination or a finish line or something scary chasing you, so it’s important to set goals.

Goal setting is something I enjoy, but I’m not always smart about it. As a teacher who’s also a writer, I put a lot of pressure on my summers. The lists of things I want to accomplish is often enthusiastic to the point of overwhelming. Last year, my summer to-do list was three pages long and included all sorts of unrealistic expectations for someone just coming off her first year back in the classroom. At the end of the summer, I checked off some things, crossed off a lot more, and wrote “Hahahaha!” next to a few lofty objectives I didn’t come close to meeting. Realistic goals are key, and I’m trying to get better about that.

Also, motivation can come in many forms. It doesn’t have to be a finished novel. It can be the stay-in-bed day you promised yourself if you meet your word count for the week, or it can be a submission deadline for a publication you want to send your work to. Whatever it is, most of us perform better with a carrot hanging in front of us, so it’s important to find what motivates you and work toward it.

I was fortunate enough to receive a very nice piece of motivation this week. I’m so proud to announce that my current work-in-progress won first place in the middle grade category of the Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest. This honor has earned me entrance to the always-awesome WLT Agents & Editors Conference at the end of this month, as well as a ten-minute consultation with the agent who chose my work as the winning entry. I’m incredibly excited about this opportunity, and now have a LOT of work ahead of me. I want to progress my novel as much as I can before the conference, so that I can (hopefully) speak intelligently about it to editors, agents, and fellow writers. Wish me luck!

In the end, though, none of that hard work will matter much in June if I don’t keep writing in July. And July’s work won’t mean much if I give up in August. So I must find new motivation and maintain discipline and keep getting to the page. Maybe, just maybe, if I fill my summer with words and truly make writing a habit, I can keep it up come September.

One can hope.

Posted in Poetry

Night Walk

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This poem was published in Dreams & Nightmares a year ago this month, and I’d like to share it with you now.

Night Walk

One night I walked outside
to look at the full moon,
but there was no moon,
only clouds and wind
that whispered Go, Go 
into my ears. So I went.
Without phone or flashlight,
sweater or shoes, I followed
my toes up mossy hills,
down dusty ravines,
through fields of flowering flytraps.
I crossed the path of a black cat
and it ran up a tree in a panic.
I traipsed and trudged
over boulders and sand
until I found myself
at my own front door
which stood ajar, paint peeling,
windows smudged and dim.
I looked down,
saw my toenails had grown long,
my hair gray. My skin
wore the lines of my travels,
etched into once smooth terrain.
And I lifted my aged head
and howled at the moonless night.

© Carie Juettner, 2017
Published in Dreams & Nightmares, Issue 106, May 2017

Posted in Teaching

15 Signs It’s the Last Month of School

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  1. Your lesson plans all say “Work on project? Or something?”
  2. Every single glue stick is empty.
  3. No one’s even calling the copier repairman anymore, and people have started storing snacks in the paper trays.
  4. Every day is a jeans day. No one really gave permission, it just happened.
  5. The things you pack for lunch have gotten weirder and weirder. It wouldn’t surprise you to open your lunch bag and find a stick of butter and a bag of frozen spinach.
  6. Students seem shocked when you hand graded papers back. They look at them like, “What is this? Where did it come from? What does it have to do with me?”
  7. The lost and found contains enough items to clothe and educate a child for an entire school year and allow her/him to drink out of a different water bottle every day.
  8. Everything everywhere smells like a dirty sock.
  9. Students say things like, “Why do we still have to do work?” and “When the STAAR test is over, we’re done, right?” with absolutely no irony whatsoever.
  10. Parents have finally realized these kids will be their responsibility again soon and have started sending thank-you notes and chocolate.
  11. The recycle bins are so full, you can finally slip that pile of very-important-things-you-never-got-around-to inside without anyone noticing.
  12. Teachers spend their conference periods bartering for storage space. “I will cover your duty five times next year if I can store two boxes in your closet.” “How many jeans passes will it take for you to keep my textbooks in your built-in shelves?” “I will give you one foot of space in my cabinet for your laptop charger.”
  13. In Advisory, you are now teaching important life skills, such as how to properly stack boxes, remove staples from walls, and repair broken desks.
  14. When a book you haven’t seen in eight months arrives back in your classroom, you reenact the final scene in The Incredible Journey when the boy reunites with his long lost dog.
  15. There is never, ever enough coffee.

***

Hang in there, teachers!