A Little Progress Never Hurts

I can’t remember where I originally saw this picture, but it was probably somewhere on one of those encouragement posters you see. You know the ones that tell you though the road may be long, and though you feel lost to keep going? Sometimes I just want to jump inside one of those posters and run off into the unknown – maybe then I think I’ll find out where my story is supposed to go.

This week I’m learning to appreciate glimpses instead of focusing on entire chapters of progress. I consider myself to be an instrument through which my characters can tell the story. When I think too hard and try to control things we end up off course. Residency is an eye-opening experience, and not for the faint at heart or those with an iron grip on their stories, but it does not all end there. So far I have gotten a lot out of the two residencies I’ve attended at MSU. However, usually about a week or so afterwards I find myself clogged as if someone pulled open the top of my head and stuffed wads of Viva or rolls of three-ply toilet paper inside. Everything is all fuzzy, clouded and staunched. For lack of a better term – I get creatively constipated trying so hard to remember what I learned, weed  through workshop suggestions about my story, and meet deadlines.

Since I’m still new at all this, I feel comfortable sharing with you what I find helps me if your creativity is ever backed up. Yes, I’m going to give you another list.


1. Realize that residency is one of those take what you need- leave the rest type of things. The program is there to help  you – not remold you. If your writing was really that crappy in the beginning you wouldn’t have been accepted. These people see potential in you, so stop whining about what you could have or should have done during residency, and now do what you do best – Write!

2. Every person is different so every person writes differently. Not everyone can whip out something spectacular in 2, 4 or even 10 minutes so give yourself a break. Maybe you are the kind of writer whose stuff tastes better once it has had a chance to simmer. Work with what you have and expand upon it. Be yourself and embrace that which distinguishes you from everyone else.

3. Creativity is not a faucet and should not be treated as such. Allow yourself to do what writers do best: dream big dreams, hope for what is utterly impossible, make up ridiculous things, and allow your characters to have a little freedom. Form is important – yes, but don’t get so caught up in form that you choke on it. Most importantly your job as a writer is to tell the story, so stop worrying about being grammatically correct, varying sentence lengths or if you are telling too much instead of showing (I promise you can fix it all later). The point is if you suffocate the creative voice beneath layers of format you will never tell the story and it will die. Just write it down already and fix it later.

4. Stop trying to be a writer and just write. In reality, the ones who came before us wrote where they could, sometimes in uncomfortable surroundings like bathrooms and laundry rooms. Stop imagining there is a special place, desk, chair or environment that will improve things. Sure it would be nice, and maybe after you sell several books you can get that happy place, but in the meantime work with what you have. If there is something good there location won’t prevent it from being shown.

Needless to say I’ve made a little progress. I’ve almost finished (for now) In Pieces, but trust me I’ll probably do more to it later. it is at least to the point where I can submit it or get feedback. I don’t know if it will ever go anywhere, but just completing or getting close to completion with that piece is progress and I’ll take it. Last night I was playing with the novel I’m working on and had a breakthrough about a few of the characters. I say “playing with” because unless I’m actually writing or revising I’m just tossing thoughts around in my head and listening to my characters.

I’d been wanting to give more depth to Jaxon, my male major character, but have been dragging my feet, unsure of who I wanted him to be. He has come a long way, but something was missing. Yesterday I saw this guy on my way out of the grocery store. He had beautiful eyes and held the door open for me. I couldn’t stop thinking about him, and realized later that he was my Jaxon. I’m such a visual person maybe that was the problem before why there was a void. I now can see where I want to go with him, which opens my mind up to other aspects of the story.

I also did some soul searching about Austyn and Macey. Since I’m working with three major characters I sometimes get lost in the making-it-all-fit nightmare. Last night I saw them finally for the individuals they are, which made it easier to build the story into one where it fits – if I want it to. Austyn’s character seemed to be missing something as well. I didn’t want her to come off as a wuss, or a witch or too crazy or too perfect. So it was a challenge since I like all my characters to be a little quirky. I found a new beginning for her, and now the old one is in the middle. I can also see her ending and so far like the way it is heading. Macey’s character lacked purpose, so I gave her conflict a background, which broadened the role of another character. Needless to say the ship is once again moving after being trapped on land for some time.

I’ve got this title in my head for something else. Something different. When I get a minute I might play with it in short story form and see how it develops. The criminology I’m studying has been planting some seeds and I’d like to at least try it. There is a story there. I can partially see it, but have a long way to go.

The last time we spoke I said I’d post a picture link for my travels. It is a constant work in progress, but I’ve uploaded some pictures from both residencies, the move from Texas to Tennessee, some pieces of home and even my trip to Baltimore for a job interview that went nowhere. I plan to be doing a lot more traveling, hopefully attending writing conferences and wherever else the road takes me. Here’s the link. I hope you enjoy my travels http://photobucket.com/thenexthundredmiles

Before I go I’d love to hear your stories about being creatively constipated or anything else you’d like to share with me. I feel like we’re in this together and can’t thank you enough for your support.

: )


Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

Pretty on the outside, but bring a pillow for your bottom

I promised you an update on my residency, but must admit is is a few days late. We returned on Saturday and I hit my bed and remained there throughout much of the next day. Yesterday I finally put the clothes back where they belonged and this morning I emptied the last bag which contained all of my toiletries. I can honestly say it wasn’t as shocking of an experience as the first residency in January because the people and places were familiar, the routine was familiar and there wasn’t any snow; however it wasn’t without chaos.

I learned so many things this time around.

(1) Make sure the car keys are in a safe place – anywhere but in the ignition of a locked car. The morning we were supposed to leave, before we could even load the car I had to call a locksmith to come retrieve my keys. $45 later we loaded the car.

(2) Go easy on the luggage.


When packing I felt sane. When I took this picture I felt a little apprehensive, but knew I could make it work. After I considered attaching a tow to the back of my car and renting a small U-Haul I realized things had gotten out of control. So did I leave anything at home? No. In fact I ended up with more once we arrived. Next time instead of packing for ten days I might pack for three days and just wash and re-wear my pieces. Not only did I damage my trunk, but I ended up with two damaged tires.

(3) If you are out of town and must have any kind of work done on your car – take a man with you to negotiate. I can’t believe I just said that, but sadly our world is a bit twisted. I had a screw in one tire and a nail in another and they were both on the same side of the car. After checking tread depths I opted to replace one of the tires and patch the other. This should not have cost me $146 nor should I have had to wait two hours when I was the second person in line (behind an oil change). Next time I’ll get a membership to AAA.

(4) READ ALL MATERIALS BEFORE RESIDENCY BEGINS. I cannot stress this enough. Each residency I get to work with a different mentor (they choose the mentor). Whoa was I not prepared. The last residency required me to bring two books and my workshop piece. There was a craft book and a fiction novel. The fiction novel was small so a chapter could be read each night. We discussed the craft book but did not do any in-class writing assignments. This residency: three books (medium to large), craft book exercises and readings every day, workshop revisions due during residency (not afterwards), and a presentation on the novel (in this case Room – all 321 pages). I felt as if I were constantly out of sync, like someone had plucked me out of my own reality and dropped me into the middle of a movie where there is nothing but sea. I sank, bud didn’t drown. Next time, bring a life preserver and prepare for the worst.

(5) People Like to Party. This residency we were required to attend a picinic at one of the lovely homes of a fellow fiction writing student I met last residency. It was so kind of her to offer her home, but the logistics were in conflict with my desire to stay afloat. There were so many things I needed to be doing that I didn’t have time to enjoy what I was supposed to be doing. The lesson I learned here is to loosen up. Not everything has to always be about productivity.

I’m thankful for the wonderful people I get to work with at residency. The people who put it together are truly amazing and I’m not blowing smoke up anyone’s butt. I’ve never felt so cared about – anywhere. They want me to succeed and are encouraging along the way. I don’t know about other MFA low residency programs, but the one at Murray State is pretty amazing. I keep saying how blessed I am to be a part of it.

Now that it is over it is nose to the grind time. I have 8 books this time around to read and two of them are craft books. Of the 4 annotations due I also must include thirty new pages of fiction. On a good note I got positive feedback on the novel I’m working on and want to use for my thesis. My undergrad degree is in communication whereas many of the students I am in the program with majored in either English or creative writing. I find myself slipping into the “showing/telling” traps. I start off showing, but sometimes get technical about it and lapse back to my AP writing/tell skills. It makes for a lot of rewrites, but at least it is fixable. My goal this semester is to catch myself when I am doing it.

For the millionth time it seems I am rewriting the beginning of the first chapter. The novel began with my character waking up after having a dream and my mentor suggested I go with something else if at all possible. The great thing about work-shopping a piece is you get to step aside and see from another person’s perspective what can be improved in your story. I agree with her about the beginning. She also suggested I add a map for my fictional town which I think is a terrific idea. The second character I introduced, Jaxon is likeable – but to me he still needs more depth. People seem to really like my first character, Macey. I want them to all be liked for whatever reason, but I need to even the playing field or balance them out. The third character’s entrance needs to be strengthened in my opinion as well which means I’m probably going to move some things that happen in the story around for more impact. The worst thing I think you can do when trying to write a novel is to cause the reader to lose interest. If you are bored writing it – the reader most likely will be bored reading it.

On a final note, I’d like to fill you in on my progress with “In Pieces” since the last time we spoke it was literally in pieces. I read from some of it during our banquet but don’t think it went over well, because it wasn’t a piece that could be done well in under 4 minutes – at least not from where I started reading. I learned a bit about the personal essay at residency and am trying my hand at it with this piece. I’ve edited it to just under 3,000 words and am submitting it (for the first time) to a writing contest. At this point I’m going to be realistic – but try (though I find it easy) to not be pessimistic. Writers get rejection letters and I am totally prepared for that. I’m not so sure I’m prepared for the upside of that equation, but I’ll let you know how I do when we make it there.

Up first to the annotation plate is: “Lunatics” by Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel and “A Summons to Memphis” by Peter Taylor.

I’m still working on my African American Literature research paper about the importance of race. I’m studying the way people identify themselves and what role race plays in that identification, particularly if one is of more than one race.

Criminology is still along for the ride as well. Two more tests and I’ll be finished with the criminal profiling course I enrolled in during the summer. Yes, I am taking more criminology classes this fall.

In the meantime, thanks so much for coming along with me on this journey. I’ll upload some photos from both my residencies to a website and get the link to you next time we talk.

Keep reading and writing!

Sorry Willie, But I Really CAN Wait To Get On The Road Again

Gotta Love Paducah

In two days I leave Tennessee for my second residency in Kentucky at MSU. At this point I have no earthly idea how I’m supposed to fit two cat carriers, one large dog carrier, one bird cage, all their luggage (food, toys, etc.), and twelve pieces of luggage (of various) sizes into a Taurus. Sure it’s only an hour and forty minute drive there, but ten days is a long time for a female and yes, I already downsized. Tomorrow we’re going to do a test run and see if it all fits and if not, I’m calling U-Haul and I swear I’m going to hitch one of them to the back of my car. Lord please make it all fit.

As far as the residency itself goes, I’m feeling numb (not quite excited, but not bummed either) about it which doesn’t exactly please me. I should feel something right? I think I’m just really overwhelmed with school at the moment and the whole residency thing is just bad timing.

This was the first time I took at two week literature class and I never will again. Actually this entire summer school thing is something I would have rather done in the fall or spring. Since this is my first time as a graduate student I’m not accustomed to things just rolling ahead. I’m more used to having an option to attend summer classes. It’s not MSU or ISU that’s causing the stress, but graduate school in general, but I think it has been kicking me in the pants for long enough. I’m ready to once again be the leader and not be led by my classes. Or at least I’d love for God to just take the wheel – unlike me he knows exactly what he’s doing.

I’m also still job hunting and writing. My friends keep asking how I plan to work while attending school. Well I don’t know exactly it just is what it is. On one hand it would be nice to just sit home and write all day, but who is going to pay the bills? On the other hand I’d love to try my hand at a communications position and really use my undergraduate degree. I loved my internships and the thought of having benefits and a steady paycheck as well as create new things daily is exciting. I actually enjoy working. Last night I applied for my dream job, so keep your fingers crossed, send up a prayer, and cross your toes and eyes too if you think it will help. I really need a job.

Since my last post I’ve been preparing to submit a memoir-type writing for a contest. It will be my first time submitting to a contest. The prize is $1,000 which is nice, but even if there were no prize the opportunity to possibly win and have something published is exciting and challenging.

I don’t think I’ve done more on the novel since we last spoke. My two week class unexpectedly required me to read five books in two weeks and make discussion board posts. My professor is a gem, but can we say “NIGHTMARE” for the time line?

I don’t know what I was thinking. Add that to the Criminal Profiling course I’m taking as well and it all borders on being unreasonable. Yes, I know I don’t have to be Super Woman, but I just love productivity and the idea that once I’m finished with everything, in addition to the pieces of paper I get to hang on the wall in nice frames, I’ll have accomplished a goal and that makes it all worth it!

The memoir piece I’m working on needs a lot of editing, and I haven’t begun to think about what piece I’ll read at workshop (one more thing I have to think about). Actually I’m still thinking about those asiago cheese bagels and the warm atmosphere of the coffee shop I can’t wait to visit. The MSU campus is beautiful as well and I will get to see the friendly faces of all the folks along for this journey with me.

I have absolutely no idea where we’re headed, but it sure is one heck of a ride so far. Feel free to climb aboard if you like.

Until next time : )