Jumping Back In

I am not going to apologize for how long it’s been since I’ve posted, and if you want to know why, check out the post before this one (Life Training is Job Training). I will say that it is partially due to the 2 1/2 year old that I mentioned in my last post was fourteen months old at the time. Also due to her little sister who is now almost 3 months old. It’s been a busy year!

But despite busy, two kids, back to work, and trying to keep sane, I am still attempting NaNoWriMo this year. It’s been longer ago that I wrote on any stories than I’ve written here. I haven’t had any time to read unless I was looking up suggestions for first-time bottle feeding or how to help a toddler calm down from a fit. I fall asleep trying to watch movies or TV shows on Netflix. Fiction has been thin in my life lately.

But recently,writing has come up more often in my life. It started with ads for MasterClass’s writing class taught by James Patterson (while a class with James Patterson would be amazing, I’d rather not be one of millions of sycophants staring at a screen with bated breath). That must have been enough of a suggestion that my mind wandered back toward writing and writing-related activities. I found myself thinking and talking about my novel again, trying to find out who was looking at my facebook artist’s page (*waves at the new folks who might have found MfA through that*), signing back onto WordPress and wanting to post.

And signing back on to NaNoWriMo for the first time in three years. If you’ve never heard of National Novel Writing Month, you should check out the link above and at least witness the craziness that is 50,000 words in 30 days. It is silly to think that someone could really write a novel in a month, but it is also so much fun participating and egging on your friends, that I’ve thought about it every November since I first learned about it my senior year of college. This year, the draw is strong.

I will admit that I’m taking it a little easy, jumping back into crazy writing fury with both feet. I’m working on a novel that I’ve already written 35,000 words on before. But I will attempt to write 50,000 new words on that one novel, and hopefully by the time I’m done with November, I’ll have 85,000 words that I can pare down into a decent novel. And if I at least reach 50,000 words total, it will be a small victory, even if I don’t win the month.

So I’ll work on a novel that’s not already in it’s fourth draft, but one that’s not brand new, either. Maybe if I can keep writing this year, I’ll tackle something else out of my Look At Later file next NaNoWriMo.

But I’m going to get through this November first.

P.S. Keep track of my NaNoWriMo progress under the name goodevilangel or on my facebook artist’s page! Friend me or like my page to cheer me on!

Life training is job training

As I hang out with my fourteen month old daughter and watch her alternate between playing with the puppy and eating the de-husked pieces of popcorn that I’m leaving for her (sometimes both at once as she feeds the popcorn to the puppy), a sentence occurs to me that is one of those great truths that we come up with once in a while:

Being a mother is being everything to everyone, all the time… and on half the sleep.

<img src=" http://mybabyexperience.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/motherhood-quotes.jpg&quot;

Now I know that this blog is supposed to be about writing and teaching and learning, but that's exactly why my kid, husband, puppy, and kitty (and mom, and dad, and brother, and in-laws and…) all make appearances. I do think that a lot of what I have learned being a wife and mother is helping prepare me for whatever is ahead of me in the classroom. If you have experience being a mother or mother figure, you know that you have be be prepared for people with different needs and perspectives, and you have to be able to change up what you're doing with no warning.

Teaching someone who can't talk, and who you can't tell if they understand anything you are teaching them, is certainly good training for teaching any one. You have to think of so many different ways to explain things including visual and auditory, and you can't just rely on the text book. You can't expect the pupil to conform to your way of teaching, you have to figure out how the pupil learns the best and go with that. You have to try to cover all of the bases and teach everything that you can think of that might possibly apply, then you have to let go and watch what happens. And let's not forget the innate ability of babies and toddlers to turn any adult goofy.

Now, that's not to say that you should hold the hand of every one of your students and spend every waking moment working on new and different ways to write you assignments, but a little creativity and fun go a long way to helping your students figure out how they learn best. I had the great good fortune to be home schooled for most of my formative years, and that helped me figure out how I learn best. Unfortunately, most of your students will have gone through a standard school system with overworked teachers and strict requirements that don't allow a great deal of creative thinking or exploration. The best teachers, the ones that your students look up to and remember years after graduation, will be the ones who were creative and exploratory, anyway.

I'm not saying that everyone should run right out and find a baby to raise, but there are opportunities for everyone to mother or mentor.  If you take these opportunities, not only will they often look really good on a resume, but they will help enrich your life and teaching experience, as well. Every teaching experience is also a learning experience, and should be appreciated for it.

And going to college was the second best test for how much I could get done on too little sleep…

I know it’s been a while, but…

No, I didn’t intend for this post to be at the end of a long hiatus (not to be pronounced, “Hate-Us”). I’ve been spending the last few weeks with family, friends, looking and applying for day jobs, and trying to get my house in order in case I get one of those day jobs. Somewhere in the middle of it, I remembered that I’d left you all waiting, and suddenly I had a topic for this blog post.

image

Ooh, hot fudge...

I can not count how many times I’ve had a blog, a social media site, any kind of writer’s group, or anything where people expect you to participate regularly and I’ve had to say, “I know I haven’t been here/on/posting in a while, but I’m still here, and this is the update of my life!” I don’t now if I’m that busy, that easily bored, or just that easily distracted, but even if I can get into a rhythm of things, I often get off track for a while and have to catch up or apologize because I’ve been gone. (fun fact, rhythm is the only word in the English language without a proper vowel in it!)

The thing is, we’re human, and we’re not going to be perfect. It’s the whole sad truth, but there it is. Even those of us that are driven and punctual have stuff happen and make them late and miss things, or so I’ve been told. Life happens, and we WANT it to happen. So why to we feel so guilty when it does? Why do we feel like we can’t go back to that writer’s group or gym or blog every time we miss a few sessions? Do we really have to cancel membership or start a whole new blog to keep going?

No! We need to get back on that elephant and ride it to the bazaar!

Every time my favorite bloggers and online comics take a break, I am saddened and slightly adrift. At least until I remember how many thousands of other blogs and comics there are on the web. But then when they come back, it’s like Christmas! I get ridiculously excited to see what new things are going to come out of my favorite minds. Sometimes they are whole new projects, sometimes just new things that are informed by what those minds were doing that took them away in the first place.

And that’s the thing about having a life — it might take you away from what you want to do for awhile, but it almost always brings you back to it, and it will add depth and interesting things to whatever it is once you’ve returned. “A writer – and, I believe, generally all persons – must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource,” said Jorge Louis Borges. So appreciate those resources when they happen and for however long it takes to happen. Just make sure you tell us all about it when you get back.

Henry David Thoreau said, “How vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live.” If that means that writers need to take a little time off for living, do it! Now to apply that same pep talk to my yoga practice…

“Hi, I’m Caitlin, and I’m a writer…”

This is your cue to chorus back, “Hi Caitlin.”

image

David H. from strobist.blogspot.com, "Book Club"

Again, I am being facetious (and if you don’t know what that word means, you should go look it up). While this post is about support for you and your writing, I don’t really think that every writer should be part of a twelve step program. While Anton Chekhov said “If you can not write, don’t,” (well, it has been attributed to many different people, but I heard it was Checkov), I don’t really see it as something we need to recover from in that way.

What I am talking about is support for you so you can write. If you have to take care of a day job, a night job, full time schooling, children, parents, a spouse, a house, a roommate… or any  combination of these things, you probably find it difficult to find time to write. While we have all heard about the people who have all or most of those things and still manage to eke out the best novel of the year that wins a dozen awards before it’s even published, it is much easier to write if you have help with the rest of your life.

This occurs to me this week as I celebrate my wonderful family for many different reasons. My daughter turned one, my grandfather is turning 89, my brother is turning 34, my dog and cat are both turning two, and it’s mother’s day, so we’re just partying as often as humanly possible. I am planning or helping to facilitate many of these parties. I stole time away while I’m baking a birthday cake to write this (hooray mutlitasking).

Obviously every parent needs some sort of support just for life, and if you can use that support to help you write, then you don’t really need this post. If it’s never occurred to you to use that support to help you write, then maybe you should start there and figure out if maybe grandma and grandpa can take the little ones for a few hours every Tuesday and Thursday or something like that. I see it as a blessing and a necessity for every writer to have someone who supports and validates their work.

And to that end, I would say that if you don’t have a very supportive family, you should seek out other like minded individuals. When I was in college, I had a group of friends who were all English-ly inclined, and we decided that we were interested in reading each others’ work and getting feedback on our own in a less formal setting. We started Girl’s Write Out, and we had a great time getting together, reading and commenting, generally kibitzing, and drinking too much coffee. It is pretty likely that someone in your area already had this idea, and there is some sort of writer’s group around that you can investigate joining.

It is important to be careful about the writer’s group that you join because some groups are far too critical of everyone’s work and some far too little. You really need to sit in on a few sessions, maybe ask them a little bit about your own work, and feel out if they are a good fit. While it’s a huge benefit to be in a group that you work well with, a bad writer’s group is much worse than not having a writer’s group at all.

Writing can be too solitary an exercise, and a writer’s group can not only help you move out of your shell and improve your writing, but often it helps you network and meet people who can help you with editing, publishing, and maybe even some day, cover art.

A misery shared…

Just kidding. Writing isn’t a misery… most of the time.

image Porter and Menolly, working hard at the “Learning Farm”

What I am laughingly trying to say is that if you’re having a hard time writing, you might consider a different approach: collaboration. It is amazing how much I can get hashed out just talking to a trusted friend or loved one about a story, and if the person you’re talking to has a vested interest in what you are writing, as in it’s their writing too, so much the better.

One of the tenants of first year English at the college level is workshop and collaborative writing. It always gets mixed results, and there hasn’t been any project structure that can account for all of the potential problems with group projects, but when it works, it is one of the greatest learning and writing experiences that you can get.

Now, most students have had a very bad group experience in school, and very few have had great ones. There is often one person in the group that is a leader and does most of the work, one who is a follower and will basically do the least amount of work to get a decent grade, and one person in the group who simply doesn’t show up. There are ways for individuals in groups to try and keep the work load and participation balanced, but so few students know these tactics or how to employ them, so they just go through the project as quickly as they can and keep their head down hoping for a passing mark.

This, of course, is not why teachers assign group work. If nothing else, seeing how other people view your work and getting their feedback on it is one of the best things to happen to any writer. While you might be writing for yourself, if you ever intend to be published, you are writing for an audience, too. If you don’t have any idea what the audience thinks about your work, you don’t know how to give the audience what they want.

On the collaboration front, if you have more than one mind working on a project, you’re guaranteed to get something more creative and more interesting to more people. You simply can’t get away from the fact that someone else will look at your writing with another perspective and other ideas will come to them that wouldn’t have necessarily come to you. If you’re actively trying to put your individual spin on a piece, you’ll get something even better because your separate perspectives are focused in one direction.

There are a couple of different ways that you can collaborate that are advantageous, and I’m sure you can come up with new ways, as well. You can write the entire story together, each pick a character or a couple of characters, switch off chapters, even one of you come up with character development and another work on plot while a third is creating the world. There are all kinds of ways for writers and creative minds to inspire each other and come up with great work.

So you might groan when a teacher assigns you group work, but there are a lot of great reasons to complete it, not the least of which is that you will probably have to do group work in the ‘real’ world, as well. And you never know, maybe this will be the group that changes your mind about group work?

And yes, this post was inspired by watching two one-year-olds (see the picture!).

« Older entries