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 Writing

Writerly Resources in Austin, TX

AustinTX
This ATX skyline pic is a little outdated.

It seems like every week I meet someone new to Austin. That’s probably because people JUST KEEP MOVING HERE. Luckily, all these recent Austinites are super nice and many of them are writers.

This is a great city to live in if you’re a writer. (I know, I know, I’m supposed to tell everyone Austin sucks, don’t move here, but I can’t. I’m too honest for my own good.) I didn’t know Austin was such a great writing town until I became a writer myself and even then I didn’t understand just how unique our community was until I started hearing about it from people who live elsewhere. Jennifer H. Robenalt called Austin “the best literary town in the United States” when she talked about being a good literary citizen at WLT’s Third Thursday event in July. (<– More about what that is later.)

It’s true that we have a plethora of amazing resources for writers, as well as a supportive atmosphere for creativity. I just didn’t realize other places didn’t have that too. Now I understand, and I’m so grateful to be here.

When I meet writers new to Austin, I can’t help telling them about all my favorite local resources. Three times last month I sent emails to people detailing all the awesome stuff they have to check out. So, to save myself some time in the future, I decided to put all that information here. Next time I can just point ATX newbies to this post.

Carie’s List of Writerly Resources for New Austinites

*Organizations:

Writers’ League of Texas

No matter what genre you write or how long you’ve been writing, you will benefit from a membership to the Writers’ League of Texas. WLT is a long-standing, well-run organization full of friendly faces and excellent perks. Membership gets you discounts to their weekend workshops and annual agents & editors conference, as well as access to their open office hours, where you can schedule time to discuss pretty much anything you want. If you want to check out the organization before signing up, attend one of their Third Thursday events at BookPeople. The panel discussions are free and open to the public and cover a different topic every week.

Austin Poetry Society

If you’re a poet in the Austin area, I encourage you to join the Austin Poetry Society. I’m on the board of this small, but enthusiastic organization, and we’re always on the lookout for new members. By joining the society, you get access to our monthly meetings as well as eligibility to enter our monthly and annual contests. Members can also advertise their events and publications through our newsletter and social media sites. Want to learn more about us before signing up? Follow our Facebook page!

Austin Chapter of SCBWI

If you write picture books, chapter books, middle grade, or YA, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is for you. This national organization has lots of benefits for members, including contests, webinars, discussion boards, conferences, and vast networking opportunities. The Austin chapter is an amazing source of support for both new and established writers in this genre. A quick look at their website will show you just how much they have to offer. Their monthly meetings (also at BookPeople) are on the second Saturday of each month.

*Bookstores:

BookPeople

Well, I’ve already linked to this fabulous bookstore twice in this post, so you know it’s important. BookPeople is my favorite store. Period. It’s the largest independent bookstore in Texas. Not only do they have a huge assortment of books, including many by local authors and publishers, but they also have an incredible staff of knowledgeable bibliophiles who can help you find whatever you need. Even if you forgot the title. And the author. There’s a coffee shop downstairs, a great space for reading or writing, and they host a wide variety of meetings, events, and author signings. Go. Spend some time and money there.

Malvern Books

Malvern Books is another independent bookstore dear to my heart. This much smaller shop also hosts readings and events. In fact, they were kind enough to invite me to read some poetry there last January. You can see my reading here. But this store is different because they specialize in “visionary literature and poetry from independent publishers, with a focus on lesser-known and emerging voices.” They have an enormous poetry section. Tired of seeing poetry books tucked into a sad little corner at the big bookstores? Come to Malvern and bask in the glory of their wall of poetry.

*Critique Groups / Meetups:

There are tons of writing-related groups in Austin. Just type “writers” into Meetup.com and you’ll see what I mean. I’m at bit sporadic in my attendance to these groups, but the three I frequent most often are:

Sit Down, Shut Up, and Write

Chat for thirty minutes with the other members of the group, then shut up and write for one hour. It’s incredible how much more work I produce in that hour compared to any single hour at home. RSVP through Meetup.

Austin Writers Meetup Group

Bring a chapter or short story or poem (see their website for details on word count and number of copies) or just come to read and listen. After introductions, members spend about an hour silently reading the pieces. Then they take turns discussing each one aloud. Good input from a variety of perspectives in a short amount of time. RSVP through Meetup.

Slug Tribe

Although I only recently became a “slug,” this sci-fi, fantasy, horror critique group has been meeting for over twenty years. Bring a chapter or a story (again see website for details on word count, etc) or just come to listen. Stories are read silently one by one in the order that the authors arrive. Feedback is detailed and insightful. This group also has an email list you can join where people ask questions, share publications, and discuss industry news. See their website for details.

*Other Unique Venues and Resources:

The Writing Barn

Workshops, classes, writing days, author events, overnight accommodations—The Writing Barn has it all and wraps it up in a serene environment perfect for providing creative inspiration. Read all about this lovely south Austin writing retreat in my post about it here.

Harry Ransom Center

This is one Austin resource I need to spend more time exploring. According to their website, the Harry Ransom Center is “among the nation’s finest research libraries and a place of unlimited discovery. The collections assembled here document the work of some of our finest writers and artists and provide unprecedented access to the creative process while also helping us understand the historical moment out of which this work emerged.” I spent time at the HRC in college and have seen a few exhibitions in recent years, but there’s really no excuse not to visit more, especially since it’s FREE. What a gift to have a cultural archive of this magnitude in my own city.

Annual Literary Festivals in and Around Austin

You’ll just have to click on the links to learn more about these events because I’m exhausted from typing.

WritingOrgsCollage

Whew! Now do you see why I wanted to stop sending all this through email? Now do you see why I can’t help but tell people about our awesome writing community? Of course, this post is only for those of you who’ve already made it to Austin. To everyone else: Austin sucks, don’t move here. 😉

Posted in Life, Reading, Writing

My Nerdy Valentines

I’m not usually a big celebrator of Valentine’s Day, but this week I received a few special treats that brought a big smile to my face.

stargirlOn Wednesday, the elementary school where I work part time as library clerk showed their appreciation for me with breakfast from Torchy’s and a gift card from BookPeople. Books and tacos? Um, yes please! What a great way to make someone feel special! Then on Thursday, the love continued when Nerdy Book Club, one of my favorite blogs, shared my review of Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl, one of my favorite books. It was an honor to guest post for them!

Ginker

On Friday, my long-time Valentine celebrated a big birthday. Gink, panther extraordinaire, turned sixteen years old. We commemorated the occasion with cuddles, tuna, and looking down our noses at the other members of the household. (Gink’s a bit conceited, but I love him.)

And today, I spent the morning at a workshop offered by the Writers’ League of Texas. “Finding the Write One: Wooing a Great Critique Partner and Being One Yourself” by Nikki Loftin, author of Nightingale’s Nest and the soon-to-debut Wish Girl, was the perfect way to start off my Valentine’s Day. Not only did I learn the good, the bad, and the ugly of critique partner relationships, but I also made some great connections with other local writers.

Now I get to spend the rest of the day with my awesome husband, who listens to my stories, encourages my writing, and shares my love of books, cats, and breakfast tacos. (Breakfast tacos most of all.) It’s been a lovely week indeed. 🙂

PricklyPear

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

(If you have a comment about my Stargirl review, please post it on the Nerdy Book Club site.
Otherwise you can share your thoughts here.)