What I’m writing: 2019 goals

What I’m writing: 2019 goals

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing these past few days; where I’ve been and where I’m going next. It’s tempting to make huge, impossible goals for the new year, or to resolve to somehow *be better.* There is an incredibly articulate toddler version of myself that runs around my brain screaming “I’m GONNA write a novel and I’m GONNA get poetry published and I’m SO MAD about it but I’m HAPPY.” I’m going to continue to let her run around at will — she’s in charge of morale. But in terms of actual planning for my future as a writer, my thought process needs to be moderated a little. Let’s start with where I am.

What I’m writing these days:

  • Over the holiday season, I wrote Christmas cards.
  • I wrote a couple of longer Christmas letters to people I’m especially lovingly close to. In the future, I’d like to make Christmas Letters a real tradition within the family I create, because what better gift exists than that of writing how we feel?
  • I wrote a review of a book I really liked
  • I wrote three really smashing recommendation letters
  • I wrote a list of kids for whom I want to keep track of college acceptances
  • I wrote in my journal so much that I changed my mindset and left a lot of bad things behind. Pages upon pages.
  • I rewrote the first ~700 words of this novel I’d like to write
  • I wrote four poems (are they good? idk)
  • I started writing two pieces of an essay about why literature matters (another piece is already written).

 

So, where to go next:

I’ve been primarily writing poetry since 2017, and while the poems keep coming on like waves, there now seems to be more room for other things. I really would like to write this novel. It’s a Western, it’s psychologically complex, it has a woman protagonist, and it’s going to deal with some historical things I think about a lot. Can I write a novel in a year? Is 2019 “the year of the novel?” Maybe, but I’ve never done that before so I’m not really sure how that works for me. My novels in the past have been long stretched-out projects that take years or don’t make it.

Have you heard of the “85K90 Challenge”? I first read about it on Ari Meghlin’s site, here: “Are you doing the 85K90 Writing Challenge?” but the official website can be found here: 85k90.com. I’m hesitant to start a challenge because it doesn’t quite fit with my writing process, because it would be wrong to prioritize something over my teaching, and because I highly doubt I’ll be ready to actually get published by the end of the year, but I like the concept! Thinking about joining to just see what happens. If anyone has done this I would LOVE to hear about your experience.

Poetry submissions were scary at first, but I think I’ve mastered it (or at least, I’m respectable now). But I need to submit WAY more poetry to WAY more places. So in 2019, one of my goals is to double my submissions. Rejection isn’t fun, but I’ve learned that it feels better if I have multiple irons in the fire at all times.

And in 2019, I’d like to write more essays. One of my favorite things that I’ve ever written was the last essay I wrote alongside my AP Lang class last year. I’ll probably pull that out in the next month or two and edit it, then decide if there’s anywhere that would be a reasonable fit. I’m not sure how to become an essayist except “be Annie Dillard,” but I enjoy piecing things together and thinking about a particular problem in nonfiction form.

Other Goals:

  • Connect with more writers who actually do the kind of writing I do.
    (which is what? okay, point taken)
  • Go to a writing conference or retreat or take a class.
  • Fill up a big notebook
  • Finish more short pieces of prose and practice good revision.
  • Continue to write alongside my students, which is one of my favorite things to do.
  • Write more on the blog — and hey, if I started a “tiny letter,” would anyone read it?

 

What are your writing goals? Want to be my writing friend? Give me a comment; I’d love to follow you. 

 

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Friday Reading Rainbow

I’ve hardly been reading at all since the school year started. I think this is a fairly normal bump off the priorities list — as opposed to the doldrum depression of summer when it seems only books can save me from my despair, the school year brings new energy, movement, and a restructuring of time. There don’t seem to be long afternoons for cafes anymore, and at night I work out puzzles in my head: how to help that student, how to introduce a lesson I’m excited about, what to write next. My eyes are more tired now, and my brain is more manic.

I talk to my kids sometimes about stamina and volume in reading. I tell them that they need to work on their stamina and focus now so that they’ll be able to keep up with the huge volume of reading they’ll encounter in college. And I admit to them that I struggle with this sometimes. I remember when I was a kid, able to read for hours straight without moving, getting so focused on the story that I’d miss my dad calling me to dinner. Now, 20 minutes of focus on text is a lot to ask of myself. And I haven’t been asking for it much. Since the school year started I’ve started two books but not finished them, either disenchanted with the writing or unable to keep up with the story after picking up the book for too little time with too little frequency.

What fixed this was my best friend, Hammy. He visited this past weekend and suddenly my solitary little home and my normal quiet Friday night was full of another (wonderful) person. With the temporary death of my loneliness and the departure of my alone time, I found my brain keeping up this pattern of darting around without focus. We visited one of my perennial favorite places, a gorgeous local bookstore (check them out – Paper Nautilus) and after looking at stacks upon stacks of interesting used books, I felt the guilt of not reading twisting around a strong urge to read. So we went home, and we sat together on my couch, and we each read about 30 pages, companionably silent, chuckling and reading out good lines. And with that commitment of focus, my reading life has been restored.

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The book I picked up that day was Brass, by Xhenet Aliu. I’m really amused and delighted by the way this book is written. It feels so real and gritty, yet intimate and sensual in some moments. The story is a mirrored one of Elsie and her daughter Luljeta, both lost and struggling in their youth as working-class, immigrant-born women. Where I am in the story, the mood is one of dull despair, and I’m doubting that Luljeta or her mother will “make it out.” I’m interested to see how Aliu grants agency and power to her seemingly powerless characters. I highly recommend it: Find a copy at your local indie bookstore

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org I’m also continuing my reading of the posthumous collection of Marina Keegan’s writing, The Opposite of Loneliness.  I’m amazed by how much her work speaks for my specific generation. I feel like she’s heard me, given voice to me, and I want to reassure her that we are something and that she was someone. It’s so hard to feel the fact that a gorgeous voice is gone.

For my older or younger friends, if you’ve ever thought that millenials are annoying or spoiled or entitled or gutless, you might want to read this essay, “Song for the Special”. Feel how fundamentally human it is to want to be somebody and then try to judge us.

Now that I’ve officially turned the heat on in my little apartment, I think I’ll be able to find more quiet time. I love autumn rainstorms and chilly late nights and early mornings with blueberry muffins. Reading and writing (which I am attempting to practice daily) fit nicely into that niche.

What’s next? I have far too many books and very little inkling of which ones I’ll enjoy next. Anyone have recommendations?

here I am, a work in progress: Writing Identity Letter

A beginning of the school year ritual: each year I write or revise a letter introducing myself to my students, and I require the students to do the same. For AP Lang, we specifically focus on writing identity, and I ask students to tell me who they are as writers. Here’s mine, slightly changed from last year: 

Dear Students,

Before I wanted to be a teacher, I wanted to be a writer. And before that, I was a reader. For me, those three things are rock-paper-scissors; one or the other tends to come out on top and at times cuts or crushes the others, but in a game of three rounds you can bet I’ll throw my best version of each. When I teach writing, I know that my students need to read great writing, and I base a lot of my knowledge about writing in what I have read and loved. But I also think about the practice and process of writing that I go through and what experiences of mine might be helpful to younger people who are learning how to write.  

I always tell my students that “if you write, you’re a writer,” and I truly believe that what grants us the identity of writing is the practice of writing. “Practice” means a few things here: first, it’s just doing it. It’s the repeated and habitual flexing of the muscles we use in our craft. I write almost every day now. Second meaning of “practice”– just like practicing a sport or an instrument or any skill, we get better by trying to do it better, and trying over and over again. So when I say I am a writer, I don’t mean that I have arrived at some point of mastery or gotten a trophy, I mean that I am trying my very best to get better at writing by practicing it over and over.

An individual practice is defined by how we do it. I usually write by hand in a notebook, in pen, with messy cross-outs and arrows to show what order things go in. I like to write in coffeeshops and libraries, on porches or park benches, at any time of the day or night. I stare off into space or make funny faces when I write because thoughts are trickling through my head and forming stubbornly obtuse ice dams that I need to break through. Sometimes I write all at once in a big rush, and the first draft is pretty much how it stays. This happens most often with poetry. But sometimes I will chip away at an idea for an essay over time, keeping a list of fragments, writing the same section over and over again, or having long conversations with friends about my ideas that eventually make it down onto paper.

I have been writing frequently this summer, with a few finished pieces that I’m happy with, and some beginnings of things that I’m excited to continue. Current works in progress include: A poem called “Love Song for Lawrence of Arabia,” a sonnet, “In 50 Years, on Your Porch,” two short stories, one featuring my friend Sam Holliday as a 1940s spymaster, the other about a guy who goes through a breakup and literally learns to fly.  I also want to write something about a horrific jaguar rampage that happened at a New Orleans zoo this summer, but I haven’t yet found a form that captures the drama and horror of the actual event.

Finding time and energy to write can be a challenge, but I have a gift in my career. My job requires a constant engagement with literary texts. I keep up with book news. I follow authors and read their blogs. I get to read amazing student writing which teaches me a lot about individuality and voice; in critiquing students’ work I get to learn about pitfalls of writing and places where things get stuck. During the school year I write comments on papers, notes to other teachers, emails to parents, detailed plans for my lessons, “plots” for the semester, and discussion questions. This year, I am especially lucky to have you, my AP Language and Composition class, because I intend to write alongside you.  

This letter is supposed to be about me, but I’d like to write about you for a second. You are about to embark on a course of study that will be strenuous and at times perilous, but (I hope) ultimately valuable and enjoyable. You will be challenged in this class. You’ll probably fill an entire notebook with writing. You might feel that you’re not good enough. You are. You also need to look around and realize that everyone in the room is going to struggle.

I am aware that this letter may distress you. You may not be used to teachers acknowledging that we’re still learning or that we’re at the starting point of something. You may be wondering if you’ll get through this class alive and how you’ll do on the AP test. I assure you– I am indeed an expert in reading, in analyzing text, in academic writing, and in teaching. I’m a connoisseur of literature and a sommelier of language. I’m critical and crafty and cranky about precision and quality. I am also pretty good at having fun, and being real, and making people feel welcome, so I hope you’ll enjoy that as well. I do think it’s worth acknowledging, though, that writing is so personal and so hard and so magical that no one ever really masters it. No one is ever done learning how to write. Some people are a lot further along the road than you or I, but for every writer, there is always more practice to be done, more strength to uncover.

I so look forward to learning more about you and diving into our study of writing and language.

Sincerely,

Ms. Pace