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Writing in Scenes

December 25, 2012 Leave a comment

The past couple months, I have tried different writing techniques that I have never used before. I never used them because I was hopelessly stuck on doing the same thing. I’m a Taurus and I am as stubborn as they come, but I do know when to put the bull horns away. And after years of failed attempts at writing stories and novels, I wanted to do something different. How much worse could it really be?

So, as you all know, I graduated. Maybe it was something about graduating that opened me up  to trying something else. Or maybe it was the fact that I finally had time to write again and I did not want to screw it up. Either way, I changed some of my approaches to writing.

I started by thinking more about the elements of my story. Characters, relationships, plot points and their relationships, etc. But, I did not stop there. No, I moved forward and tried just writing a story instead of focusing so much on what the outcome would be.

Before this summer, I worried too much about the ultimate outcome of my story. I would become so set on an ending and I would not diverge from that ending. Obviously, this can cause some creative issues for anyone writing a story. In fiction writing classes, I would scoff at any idea that would create serious issues with how I wanted the story to end. But, because of that, I missed out on some good suggestions.

So, after just writing my story down, I was supremely happy to find that the method succeeded for me. After having my brother and a friend read my story, and hearing their suggestions to lengthen, and not shorten, the story, I became more than a little stumped. Would just writing the way I had add anything to my story? Or would I need a new method?

I thought about it long and hard. My story sat for a good while before I touched it again. But, an idea came to mind. I have the bones and just writing like I had might not get the job done. What I decided for myself was to write in scenes.

I looked at my story and wrote down what I believed needed expansion. Now, I have been writing in mini scenes. I write little parts of the story that I know can easily integrate into the body that I already have. Is this what revision feels like? I’m not sure because I have never truly revised anything. I’m a write it and hand it in type of person.

That has never worked for my fiction writing, and I cannot believe it has taken me this long to get that figured out (and hopefully straightened out).

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Where Are All the Book Clubs?

December 12, 2012 2 comments

I miss talking about literature in class, with my friends, and with my professors. I expressed this to my boyfriend and he suggested joining a book club.

At first, I scoffed. Book clubs are for housewives who want to gossip and read poorly written and poorly thought out novels. This, of course, is an unfair judgement to make.

So, I looked for some book clubs in my area and (not surprisingly) there are not that many. Really, we barely have any book stores around here, so people reading books is stretching it at best. And certainly few are reading books that I want to talk about: sci fi classics, Russian classics, modern sci fi, German classics, short stories, etc.

I looked around the web, briefly, hoping for something to stick out to me.

Nothing.

So, where are all the book clubs? Do they exist? And would they help give me some of the intellectual contact I want?

What Brought You to Where You Are?

December 4, 2012 1 comment

I graduated with an English degree and, really, when I tell people about myself, most of the things I focus on explaining are my love for literature, my love for writing, and the fact that I recently graduated with a degree in English and two minors in writing.

I got to thinking the other day: How did I get here? Three years ago, I certainly would not have identified myself as a lover of literature, and I probably wouldn’t have told you I was considering getting an English degree (because I wasn’t). Ask me half my lifetime ago (11 years approximately) where I saw myself at 22, and I probably would have said “Becoming a doctor!” (Which is what I thought I wanted when I was little).

So, I want to go back… back back back to when I was 9 and getting ready to move with my family from California to Maine.

What did I think back then? I don’t quite remember, but I do recall being sad about leaving behind friends and worrying about my pet hamster, who was riding in her cage at my feet in the car.

One important detail: I was NOT hauling a box of books with me from California to Maine and I wasn’t reading books in the car to pass time–I colored, I stared out the window, I thought, but I was not going to read.

Fifth grade: the year that I believe changed the course of my life and placed me on the trail that I am on today.

English had always been entertaining for me (mostly because I liked to write and spell), but I didn’t much care for the reading part. When I started my fifth grade in Maine, I was not enthused about reading any books.

Somehow, the teacher I had that year made me want to read. I complained about it loudly whenever she announced a new book, but inside, I began to like reading. I vividly remember hiding under a desk during one free period. I had Hatchet and I eagerly sped through each chapter. When my teacher found me, she had a knowing smile and asked if I was enjoying the book. I said no.

It was this grade, this teacher, and the books she fed me that made me devour books. I started taking books out of the school library (a tiny little room lined with several shelves). I had never stepped foot inside a library until that year and I didn’t spend my free time reading until that year. Sure, maybe the crazy forcefulness with which I was thrown from one extreme environment (California) to another (Maine) may have pushed me to find something that allowed me to escape, that allowed me to put energy into something.

I continued to leave when I had to move to another town after that year. I spent so much time reading the fantasy novels I found on my father’s shelf. English continued to be my favorite class (I remember little else from sixth grade). It was also in sixth grade that I learned about Harry Potter. By this point, four of the seven had been released and I had read none of them. Why? Because even back then I was weary of anything so popular. Could it really be that good? It turns out it was. A friend dragged me to the midnight release of the first movie and the rest is history. One of my fondest memories is of sitting in a blue recliner reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire during the summer. It was warm and there was a nice breeze filtering through the windows. I just curled up in the seat of the chair, gripping the book because I didn’t want to let go.

It was the first book that really made me cry. I loved it. I loved that a book could make me feel that way. Sure, it made me sad, but it made me feel, and that, I thought, was magic.

We moved to another town, finally settling in. At this point, I was reading large fantasy novels (by Robert Jordan) that I had found on my dad’s bookshelf. I read them and I loved them. So much fantasy inspired me to write. I remember drawing out maps and making long outlines about what I wanted my book to do. But, just as now, I had trouble sticking to any one story. I had too many ideas (and most of them were not very good). However, the exercise of making characters and writing little scenes likely made me a better writer.

All of this reading and writing made me enthusiastic about my English classes most of the time.

Except eighth grade.

I had a teacher who really brought me to the brink. Looking back, if I had let her win, I probably would not have a blog, or two book shelves full of books, or an English degree. In eighth grade, a child can be impressionable. I was always adored by my English teachers because they could see that I enjoyed the writing (even when I didn’t enjoy the reading). They could see that I cared about the subject, that it tickled some portion of my brain in such a way that I could not release my interest on it.

This teacher shook my faith in English. Every book we read, we would discuss, and the interpretations I had were always the wrong ones, according to her. Each paper I wrote (though well written, she would say) had some fatal flaw that made it average. That year, we had to write a short story, and I chose to write a fantasy story. There was no genre we couldn’t touch. Some students did mystery, some did horror. I did fantasy because it was what I knew.

I wrote a story that was double the length required because I needed that much time to tell my story. She ripped it apart and told me that my plot was faulty, my themes were shallow, etc. Maybe she forgot that I was thirteen. What did she expect? Something award winning. This crushed me. The whole English class experience crushed me. I hated English. I feared going every day. I preferred math, a class in which I was praised.

That year, our English teacher would make a suggestion to the high school about what level English we should be in. I don’t know how much it influenced the ultimate decision, but I do know that I was placed in the average English class for ninth grade.

In ninth grade, my faith in English was renewed when my teacher made me enthusiastic again. She could not understand why I was in her class when she thought I was meant to be in honors. I pretended I did not understand it either. My ninth grade teacher likely helped fix most of what my eighth grade teacher broke down (except my faith in my fictional writing, which I still believe is not good).

The rest, really, is history. When I moved from Maine to New York, I used reading as a way to deal with the loss of good friends at such a tender age. I was lucky to get two of the best English teachers I ever had during my K-12 years: both helped foster my creative writing and encouraged me to read more and more. Both allowed me to take control of my own essays instead of following the essay prompts perfectly. They let me interpret what was asked of me, and that is what made them great teachers: they gave broad essay topics that were broad enough to support those who did not like English class, but also broad enough to make them interpretable by the students who really loved and thrived on English.

Although I still struggled with whether or not English was the right path for me, it may have been inevitable with all the supportive English teachers I had leading up to college (and in college as well). When I think of people I look up to, I think of English teachers and professors, not math teachers or science teachers. I always look to an English mentor and that is what brought me here to where I am.

Attempts to Blog More

October 31, 2012 2 comments

I don’t write enough in my journal and I don’t post enough on my blog, so I have decided to try combining the two…. I wrote this last night in my journal:
Juggling Life with a Job:

When I graduated, I looked forward to finally being able to have time to read, to write, to live. But, really, I have found myself in the same mess as I was in while at college: work consumes most of my time and when I am not working, I am too tired to do much except sit/lie around.

It’s not a good excuse. There is time to do the things I like. I’m just too tired to do them…too unmotivated. I would rather sit and think (an important activity for any introvert) than do much else.

On weekends, I try to be social, but then I lose valuable time I could use for reading and writing. I feel guilty toward The Brothers Karamazov because it has been a long time reading it. It is a great book: engaging, well-written/translated, entertaining….and yet, I haven’t completed it. I feel guilty that it is taking so long to get through the book.

My biggest issue, perhaps, is that I am not on a good, concrete schedule. I like schedules; they keep me organized. The fact that I do not have specific times to read, write, research, etc. likely contributes to the trouble I am having. On the other hand, a schedule takes the spontaneity out of life, and, as a young woman, I would like to allow myself to be more free than I have been otherwise.

Although I disliked my previous job, it did allow me to read more often, because, well, I had nothing else to do there. Now, I actually have work to do. All day. Which is not bad, but it drains me.

If I do what I am doing tonight at least three times a week, I can have a more active blog and a more active mind. On top of that, if I allow myself some time to read – dedicated reading time – I won’t feel guilty and my books won’t glare at me from my bookshelf.

This is more than a post-graduation issue. It’s something I believe all full-time workers grapple with. It’s all about time management now (it always has been, even before) and I just need to adjust and figure out what that means now.

Better to try something than allow my job to consume me.

Happy blogging! Happy living. 🙂

Taking My Grip Off My Story

October 20, 2012 1 comment

I’m taking a break from my confusing quarter life crisis to actually focus on a few things that will never change: my love of writing, my love of thinking, and my love of reading.

I worked on and finished a story this summer, a story which I had my brother read, I submitted to Asimov’s, had rejected from Asimov’s, and re-submitted elsewhere.

After the Asimov’s rejection, I was sad, but not deterred. What I actually began to consider was perhaps I didn’t polish it enough.

Let me explain. I feel good about this story… better than I’ve felt about any other story. BUT, I also rushed the end (a bad tendency of mine). I revised the end on the advise of my brother.

So, I got to thinking, maybe I need to let other people see this dingus. Therefore, I went ahead and asked my boyfriend and my friend to read it.

If you are a secretive writer like I am, then you understand how BIG of a deal this is. It is huge. I am allowing two other people to look at this story. People who are close to me (I’m better at letting strangers into my world than I am at letting the closest people in my life in on my writing world).

So, my friend has more time on his hands than my boyfriend and he read it.

“The idea was good. The writing was good. But, the ending was rushed and some of the dialogue could use some work.”

This was helpful in that I have always suspected/somewhat known that dialogue and endings are my weakness. I’ve tried to work on these things, but now I know I need to work on them even more.

“There’s a lot you can do with it,” he said. “I think you can really do something amazing with it if you expand on everything.”

Writers love hearing this. It’s much more exciting than hearing, “Well, you really could use a little trimming.”

So, I started thinking back to my numerous creative writing classes and I recalled, on a number of occasions, being told that one or another of my short stories could use more expanding on: as in, it should be longer.

A new thought has taken hold of my brain: what if I shouldn’t be writing short stories, but I should be working toward novelettes, novellas, novels? I have certainly read many more of these types than I have read short stories. And, I certainly understand the pacing of a longer tale than I do of a shorter one.

I took the grip off my story and released it to other people and now I think it’s helping me more than ever to form my writing identity. I just need to give it more time.

 

A Career vs. a Job

October 11, 2012 2 comments

A friend of mine is still in college and recently she told me that she thought she was having a quarter life crisis.

Before I asked her to explain, I thought about myself and wondered if I too was having somewhat of a quarter life crisis. I asked her what she meant. She explained that she had changed her major yet again (she’s done this a few times) and she remarked “I don’t even know why [I changed my major].” Then she said, “I don’t even have a life plan anymore.”

I relate to that. I feel like I’m spinning and can’t quite see where to go or what direction to move in. I asked her if she had seen her college adviser. After all, plenty of college students go through similar confusions. She told me she had, but that those advisers had not been reassuring: “They pretty much say a degree is a degree, but I really want a career, not just a job.”

This statement hit me quite hard because it’s something I’ve grappled with since graduating. Before I graduated, I heard the exact same tune from advisers and other mature figures: “It isn’t about what degree  you get, it’s about getting a degree. Employers aren’t looking for specific degrees, just that you can communicate well, think critically, etc….”

Again, I wonder why our society is so degree-focused. It’s good for those who just want a job, but as my friend suggested, for those of us who want something more, getting a degree is serious business….Figuring out what we want to do with our lives isn’t simple and when we ask for help, we don’t want such meaningless answers like “well, a degree is a degree after all.”

I feel like I’m going crazy. I made the decision to move into this new job, which has worked out well. Things are going well. But, I am not satisfied with my life. More and more often lately, I’ve been really grappling with what I want to do. I want a career, but what career do I want. I want to do something, but I can’t think of what that something is. I guess I have been hit with a serious post-graduation crisis (the crisis all my professors warned me of).

They told me most students have it before graduation (maybe like my friend) and then they end up staying in college longer, going to grad school to prolong their entrance into the real world.

I made my choice not to do that. And here I am. I don’t regret not going to grad school right out of the gate – my pocket wouldn’t have been happy with that, anyway. I’m happy that I left a terrible job for a lower paying job.

Something is missing, however.

I am young. I am free. Really, I think I need to explore life more and do things that I wouldn’t have been able to do if I were in grad school right now. I just need to figure out what those things are.

Onward, as always.

P.S. Asimov’s rejected my short story submission, but I am emboldened by the fact that is lasted so long in “under review” status, so I promptly submitted elsewhere.

A Continuing Education Compromise

September 26, 2012 2 comments

When I graduated in May, I assumed I was about to be away from school for at least a year. In fact, I talked about my 1+ year plan extensively with my professors pre-graduation. Most of them supported the idea, telling me a break would be good for me, especially since I was in a major that didn’t need immediate continuation (I wouldn’t lose science knowledge or math skills with time off).

However, about two weeks after graduation, I realized I would miss school and class and learning far too much to just walk away. I started to think about grad school, as many of you know. In fact, I have applied for grad school (just waiting on one transcript and two letters of recommendation…plus the GREs). My thought process behind grad school is not the same thought process I had pre-graduation.

Before I graduated, I thought I would take a year to get the feel of the working world, then plunge myself into school fully once more. Now, I don’t like that idea. I like the idea of class, yes, but I don’t like the idea of school being my life once more. Instead, part-time grad school is more agreeable. However, I really couldn’t wait until spring to learn something new and to be stimulated. Thus, through my local continuing education program through the board of education, I am taking a seven week Russian I course.

It’s great so far (I have only had one class, though). It seems like the continuing education courses tend to be attended by older people, which makes me feel like an odd ball. I convinced my friend to join me though, so we are the only “under 50” members of the class, except for the teacher, who is a younger Russian woman (accent and all)!

I like the class because there is no pressure of a grade (which makes me more comfortable trying to actually pronounce things–an issue in high school). The teacher seemed impressed that I wanted to learn Russian because of my interest in Russian literature. “Have you read The Idiot yet?” she asked me. “No, but I am reading The Brothers Karamazov at the moment. I like Dostoevsky. Did I say that right?” “Dostoevsky, yes, that’s correct.”

For fun, she wrote our names in the Russian alphabet. Since there is no “H” in Russian, and no “Samantha” in Russian, the best she could come up with was “Samanta.” I’m fond of it.

I’m hoping this little education compromise for these seven weeks will blossom into a strong interest in the Russian language. Maybe I will be able to start reading some basic Russian sentences.

Here’s to a stimulated mind!

Again, more to come. I have so much to update after being away from my blog for far too long.