Writer

Category: Writing

JANUARY, A MONTH TOO SHORT AND TOO LONG

January bears the burden of high expectations: A New Year! Resolutions! Winter projects! If last month I was tired, this month, the winter holidays behind me now, I felt ready to be productive—I will get so much done this month! And yet this month has flown by—is it really the 24th already?—and I have not gotten so much done. The too-long part of January isn’t an abundance of time for projects, but the endless dark and cold days. In Bellingham, we experienced negative temperatures for the first time in the twenty-six years we have lived here. I’m not a fan. Though comparatively it was interesting to experience twenty-three degrees as a comfortable temperature.

Work: In 2022, I set a goal to have my Armenian family manuscript completed and of publishable quality by my sixtieth birthday in February 2025. That goal felt reasonable and doable then. I set many intermediate goals. I moved those goalposts a few times. I have made progress but not as much as I’d hoped. Hence the high expectations for this January. And now I’m here, with only thirteen months left until I turn sixty. I’m not moving the goalposts this time, but I have altered the goal: a complete draft of decent quality, probably not ready for publication but ready for an editor, a fresh set of discerning eyes. To that end, I hope January, and February, continue to provide the perfect weather—dark, damp, and cold—to stay inside and write.

Do you set short- and long-term goals for your various projects? Any tips for helping to meet those goals? How do you feel about moving the goalposts or altering the goal itself?

Wonder: Last month I read Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May. “Wintering” doesn’t just occur in the winter but any time when illness, a major life event, a failure, or a period of transition sidelines you from your regular routine. Wintering may arrive slowly or suddenly, and can be painful and lonely. Most assuredly wintering is inevitable. “life is, by nature, uncontrollable. . . . we should stop trying to finalise our comfort and security somehow, and instead find a radical acceptance of the endless, unpredictable change that is the very essence of this life.” Fighting this fundamental truth brings on only more suffering.

What do I do when winter finds me? Recognize it for what it is: a change of season, temporary. Treat myself kindly: walk outside or stay inside and watch the birds at the feeder. Sleep in, nap, and go to bed early. Try to honor what I need in this particular season.

What helps you get through a wintering and/or this literal cold dark season? In what ways, if any, do you change your daily routine? What books help sustain you this time of year?

Window: Single digit temperatures I can do without but it isn’t winter, to me, if we don’t get at least one snowfall to brighten the day and settle a hush over the world. My love of snow isn’t shared by all, and I understand the hardships snow poses to those who must go out into it or get stuck, against their wishes, at home. Still the snow possesses a touch of the magical, and transports me to a world seen anew, if only for a few days.

 

WORK, AND WALKING AWAY

I restarted my blog in May and with December’s blog, I’ve met my goal of blogging at least once a month. I almost didn’t reach that goal. I’m tired and considered not blogging this month. I’m tired and considered just posting a picture captioned with Happy Holidays! But that didn’t feel right, or good.

I’m tired. And I wanted to write a blog this month.

I’m tired because of the low light this time of year, because I don’t get outside and exercise enough, because I don’t often sleep well. I’m tired because the state of our planet and our humanity is exhausting.

I wanted to write a blog this month, and I wasn’t sure what to say.

In talking with two writer friends about whether I would write this blog, about being tired, about what was happening with my writing lately, I discovered I not only had something to say, I had enough energy to do so. Receiving their empathy gave me that energy.

Last week I worked on cutting down an essay from 317 words to 250 or less, which is the word limit for a dream publication, Riverteeth’s “Beautiful Things.” I was stuck around 300 words. I spent two hours seeking a smaller shape for the piece and I couldn’t find it. Perhaps I needed to look for a journal with a higher word count, but that was not the solution I wanted. I was disappointed and I walked away.

Later that day something drew me back to that short essay. I focused on the central essence of the story, the push that made me want to write about this moment to begin with, and I stayed with that moment and I wrote a complete essay that is currently at 248 words. I am, I told myself, a f*@#ing rock star. Tired and walking away from the work. Tired and returning to the work.

Here’s to writer friends, and here’s to you sharing this writing journey with me. Thank you and Happy Holidays.

WORK ALWAYS

September’s blog was all windows, October’s wonder, so it follows that this month’s will be about the work, the ongoing writer’s work. The fulfilling and frustrating act of creating art. Though, as I seek more equanimity in all aspects of my life, my mindset regarding this work has been evolving. Less high-highs and low-lows, more acceptance of process, as in the work won’t always go smoothly and that’s okay.

Where I am in the drafting process of my Armenian family book: The manuscript is currently about 50,000 words, 177 pages. My goal is around 80,000 words. Much of the manuscript isn’t fleshed out or fully developed. I have several other Word docs, totaling around 20,000 words, with material waiting to be incorporated into the manuscript. I’m trying to establish, again and again as the story evolves, a solid spine around which to build the body of the book. I have to know what kind of story I’m constructing in order to know what belongs in this book, and as that story keeps shifting, so does what remains, what must be added, and what is deleted. I’ve probably written 80,000 words a few times over in my search for this story, which is, at least for me, a necessary part of the process in creating this book.

How would you describe where you are with your current creative project?

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Work, Wonder, and Windows

Work: Have you heard the term micro prose? I recently took a class from Darien Hsu Gee, a fellow Rainier Writing Workshop alum, in which she illuminated the benefits of writing micro prose: pieces of 300 words or less. She is passionate about this form, and offered much practical advice and inspiration. The writing process she outlined included writing a first draft in ten minutes and then revising in two ten-minute sessions. The short timeframes makes this a flexible and doable practice. For me, this form will be a way to get difficult material down on the page in short bursts. For more information on micro prose, and free prompts, visit Darien’s website Writer-ish.com.

Tech update: On my website, the “subscribe to blog via email” is now available on mobile devices. After the blog post, scroll past the comment section, and at the very bottom is a place to put in your email and subscribe to my blog. Please let me know if that is not the case. I’m pleased that I figured this out on my own, though not thrilled at the number of hours I spent on it when I just needed to add a widget, which was obvious in hindsight and took mere minutes.

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Work, Wonder, and Windows

Work: Traveling along the Oregon coast for two weeks this month took me out of my usual writing and exercise routines. (For more on the latter, check out this blog post.) Most mornings, I had to choose whether to write or exercise. Road trips require more sitting, so I often picked moving my body over writing. Once at my family reunion, being with my extended family was the priority. Little progress was made on my book during these two weeks and that was okay.

How do you balance the immobility of writing and moving your body? Do you try to write on vacation? Do you purposefully take writing breaks?

Yaquina Head Lighthouse

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Work, Wonder, and Windows

Welcome to my blog. First time here? Check out May’s blog for info on my intentions for this space.

Work: Last October while reading Judith Kitchen’s The Circus Train, a novella-length essay in fragments about, to name a few, mortality, Samuel Beckett, and memory, I came across this line: “I like the phrase ‘time on your hands’ when you can actively hold it and feel its weight.” In that moment I was transported back thirty years to an experience that altered my perception of time. I grabbed a pen and a notebook, and wrote the first draft of “Twenty Seconds,” an essay out in the current issue of Two Hawks Quarterly.

What does the phrase “time on your hands” make you think about?

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Work, Wonder, and Windows

June 2023

Welcome to my blog. First time here? Check out last month’s blog for info on my intentions for this space.

Work: I’ve started on the next draft of my book, my untitled Armenian family memoir. The last draft I refused to begin with page one—I was sick of page one. I was sick of the beginning that might not even be the beginning, in the end. I picked a pivotal section on page 43 and sailed forth from there. Last week I landed on page 191 with new insights for global revisions, my main goal for that draft. I’ve returned to the beginning, and those new insights are helping me see what belongs here and what decidedly does not, and the fate of the rest of the beginning is uncertain at this point. As a person, I prefer the familiar, the known, the certain. As a writer, I’ve found the only way forward, for me, is to make peace with losing sight of the shore and trust that new lands will appear, eventually, on the horizon.

A helpful resource to take along on the drafting journey: Seven Drafts by Allison K Williams.

How do you tackle your drafts? Always from the beginning? Or do you jump around?

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Work, Wonder, and Windows

May 2023

One of my motivations to write is connecting with others, and that connection can’t begin until the work goes out into the world. As I am currently writing a book, it’s a long slog before that engagement can begin. So I’ve decided to reboot, revive, and recommit to my blog.

This blog will be loosely organized in three categories: Work, Wonder, and Windows. What I am up to with my writing; wonderings inspired by books, podcasts, articles, essays, anything really; and what I’m seeing out my window on my borrowed piece of the planet between the Salish Sea and the Cascade Mountains.

Work: I’m expanding my MFA creative nonfiction thesis into a book-length work about my relationships with my Armenian grandmother and her two sisters, and the silence surrounding their life in Turkey and how they survived the Armenian Genocide. I’ve published two essays related to this work: “Geraniums” at Complete Sentence and “Tante Silvia’s Flinch Cards” at The Keepthings.

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Chuckanut Writers Conference

From the opening address by Sonora Jah—The Writer in Uncertain Times—to the closing address by Omar El Akkad—Lies of Our Own Making: The Obligations of Literature in a Politically Fractured Age—my hometown writing conference contained immense ideas, blood-pumping inspiration, and a plethora of practical advice. The impressive faculty shared their stories, their hard-earned knowledge, and their passion for writing.

Village Books and Whatcom Community College have made the Chuckanut Writers Conference happen for nine years. For various reasons, I was unable to attend until this year. Logistically, this was an easy choice for me: the venue is eight miles away so I didn’t need to procure lodging—though Bellingham has ample choices for out-of-towners. I got to hang out with my local writing tribe and compare notes on sessions. Village Books set up a mini-store with the faculty’s books—an easy temptation I gave into both days and now have four new books on my nightstand.

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SHOTPOUCH

A wash of pink spreads across the lavender sky. The apple orchard grays into view. Soon Shotpouch Creek will surface, rippled in white. But first something new: bits of darkness darting through the air. It’s too early for the robins that will dot the meadow feeling out worms or the kinglets that will flitter in the willows along the creek. The winged darkness flies at the floor-to-ceiling windows and disappears soundlessly. Bats. A dozen visible and then poof—gone. One flies toward me and then melts away. Another scrabbles against the glass for half a second before slipping under the flashing over the sliding glass door. They pour through the dim morning light and secure themselves for sleep.

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I WRITE MEMOIR, PART I

In the third grade, I read The Little House in the Big Woods series of books. You could write about your own life—what a revelation! I wanted to do that. But also, a disappointment—my life wasn’t as interesting as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s. Mine was a normal life. Two parents and two sisters, a house on a cul-de-sac, school a half-mile walk away.

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WHAT ARE YOU DOING TODAY?

The worst part of my day, on the days I run errands, is in the morning when I’m standing in the grocery store watching the clerk ring up my purchases and she asks, “What are you going to do today?” A part of me finds that question an invasion of my privacy, while at the same time I realize she is making small talk. Another part of me is curious—what am I going to do today? My mind scrambles about for my own benefit as well as a polite answer.

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THE WRITER AS ATHLETE

I exercise every day. Every day some form of stretching and strengthening, and a hike or a walk must be done. Why such dedication? Because I’m in training, not for a marathon but for a sit-a-thon. And as we are all learning these days, sitting is not for wimps.

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I WRITE! PART 1

Every time I start to write a new piece­—a story, a novel, a blog post—I get a sinking feeling in my gut, my chest constricts and a sigh slips through my lips. The glorious piece of writing floating in my mind sprawls on the page like a pig wallowing in the mud. A big smelly mess. What is worse than not writing? Writing poorly. If you don’t write, no one will know that you stink. Well, that your writing stinks. (It’s good to separate your self-worth from your work, though most writers will say that’s near impossible.)

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I HAVE A BLOG!

People blog for many reasons: to inform, amuse, advise, pontificate (what a great word—sounds like what it means), but in general, people blog to share their life experiences. And that is what I intend to do here—share my writer’s journey, and, on occasion, the journey of my daily life, because writers, like all people, must live life daily and sometimes it will feel good to rant about that.

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I HAVE A WEBSITE!

Authors are expected to have an online presence—when an editor or an agent types your name into a search engine, stuff has to come up. Not only do authors need a website, but they need a twitter account and a Facebook page. They need to be Linked-In and have a Pinterest. They must Blog and post photos on Instagram. And then there’s Google+, Tumblr and whatever else has sprouted up since I started writing this post. To sum it up in one word, an author is expected to have a platform.

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