My Writing in 2010: A Review

2 01 2011

OK, I’m back. I always faintly regret telling my readers that I’m taking a break from blogging because, inevitably, saying so just makes me want to blog again! In any case, I though it would be a good time to do a quick review of my writerly accomplishments this year, just so that I don’t feel like a total failure. Seriously though, this taking stock at the end/beginning of a year has been very helpful for me in keeping my writing progress in perspective over the long haul, and 2010 was no exception.

This past year, to help keep myself motivated to do my writing, meet some deadlines and just stay on track, I bought myself a wall calendar upon which I wrote major due dates and such. Since 2010 is now officially over, I finally took down the calendar (which, quite honestly, I eventally started using to track pregnancy-related stuff!) the other day, and decided to take a look through it to remind myself of what I’d actually accomplished. So here are the highlights:

– Applied to and got into the Macondo Workshop, Sandra Cisneros’ program to nurture writers who also identify as social change advocates. I learned a lot, mostly about the writing ‘biz’ at this one-week workshop in San Antonio, Texas in July, and met some cool folks.

– Applied for and got rejected by Blue Mountain Center’s residency program (which ended up being a good thing because it would’ve ended up being when I was in my first trimester of pregnancy which probably wouldn’t have been too much fun!), as well as from the Hyphen Magazine and Asian American Writers Workshop short story contest. I was happy, though, for my former workshop-mate, Sunil Yapa, who won first place! And I got good feedback on the story I submitted from AAWW founder Bino Realuyo, although I didn’t show it to him until after I submitted it to the contest, which in hindsight wasn’t very smart. I should’ve gotten more feedback on the story before I sent it in. Lesson learned.

– I spent a lot more time writing this year than I have in a long time. Writing dates were a crucial part of this. I would show up to them even if I didn’t know whether my writing buddy would, which as Natalie Goldberg points out works well. I had fairly regular writing dates with a few folks—notably Claire Light, whom I met several times at Farley’s East in Oakland, and Melanie Hilario and her husband, Sam Sattin, whom I met fairly often in the latter part of 2010 to write, chat, eat scrumptious gourmet donuts and drink Blue Bottle coffee with at the fabulous Pizzaiolo in Oakland.

– I completed a self-imposed seven-day short-story challenge on this blog, in hopes of teaching myself more about the art and craft of writing short pieces, which I’ve always had a hard time doing in the past. This exercise really helped me get through the beginning, middle and end of stories and narrative arcs much more quickly, and also helped me write some pieces that I think I’ll actually send out for publication soon. I also got some good feedback on a couple of the pieces I wrote for the challenge when I submitted them as a part of my package for the Macondo workshop.

– I completed a week-long Advanced Fiction Workshop with the amazing, funny, prolific and generous Mat Johnson at VONA in June. I learned a lot about structure and story from Mat and from my workshop-mates, and had a great time as always at VONA, catching up with old friends and making new ones. Mat gave me some much-needed encouragement to work on what is now shaping up to be my first book—a collection of character-driven short stories set in a post-apocalyptic California, where technology has all but disappeared and human relationships and Mother Nature become the cornerstones of a new rural ‘civilization’. I made tons of progress on three of the twelve stories for this collection in 2010, and a lot of that progress can be credited to Mat and my VONA 2010 workshop experience.

– I had two public readings this year, neither of which I tried very hard to secure, but they were lots of fun and a good chance to share some of my work with an audience. The first one was at my neighborhood cafe, Woody’s, in Oakland, with some of my workshop-mates from my fiction workshop with Junot Diaz at VONA in 2009. The other was my second reading at San Francisco’s annual LitCrawl. This year I got to read with a group of writers of color for the Carl Brandon Society, which is all about promoting sci-fi/speculative fiction writers and fans of color. I got some great feedback on my story from new acquaintance Naamen Gobert Tilahun, who said my work reminded him of Ursula Le Guin’s! Super-cool.

– As far as publications, I did get several non-fiction pieces placed this year. One was a piece on living in a multi-cultural world in a cool new anthology from Beacon Press called Are We Born Racist?, edited by my old work buddy Jeremy Adam Smith along with Jason Marsh and Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton. Other writers who were included in the collection were Rebecca Walker and Bishop Desmond Tutu, so that was cool! Another piece I had published in 2010 was a nostalgic memoir-type short about my first ‘gay uncle’, which was printed in local literary mag Instant City. This story was as much an ode to the San Francisco of my childhood as it was a story about true family, deception, loss and memory. I am particularly proud of an essay called My New Sisters which was published in the online version of Yes! Magazine And of course I had a couple pieces published in the ever-useful Grassroots Fundraising Journal, the Editorial Board of which I joined in 2010 as well.

It was a busy year, and although I didn’t reach all of my writing goals in 2010, I did make a lot of headway and am proud of my writerly accomplishments. Of course, my writing has now taken a back seat to my pregnancy and impending mommyhood, but I have been doing a fair amount of journalling and will continue to push forward with my creative work in 2011. My next post will be on 2011 new year’s resolutions, but in the meantime, here are my writing buddy





Rejection

13 04 2010

So I got a rejection letter from Blue Mountain Center for my residency application that I turned in earlier this year. This is going to sound weird or like I’m trying to play off this rejection, but I’m actually glad, because my consulting practice is really taking off and taking off a full month in September this year would’ve been really hard.

Still, it’s not fun to know I didn’t ‘get in’, but it’s for the best time-wise this year. Plus I’m already planning to spend three weeks in writing workshops this year—-if I get in to VONA again this summer, that is. Not getting into Blue Mountain for a residency means I’ll have to take a few local writing retreats to give myself more concentrated time to write, but that’s fine for now.

Besides, there’s always next year! And being a writer means you have to be persistent, if nothing else.





Updates: Two deadlines and My Work in Print Soon

5 04 2010

I’m in the home stretch of a run towards meeting two deadlines this week, one for the Hyphen/AAWW short story contest, the other for this summer’s VONA workshops. My first choices for VONA this year are the Advanced Fiction workshop with Mat Johnson in the first week, and the Fiction workshop with Tananarive Due (whose excellent Black vampire book My Soul to Keep I’m reading right now) the second week. Backups are the residency the first week with David Mura, and Advanced Fiction with Chris Abani the second week.

I’m feeling pretty good about meeting both these deadlines. I just need to proofread my short story for the contest, and do a little more editing on the pieces I’m submitting for VONA. The seven-day short story challenge I gave myself a few weeks ago has resulted in some pieces that I’m revising and sending in as my VONA submission. Another good thing about these self-imposed writing challenges—the creation of more work that can become polished, publishable stories.

I’m also waiting to hear back from Macondo (a long shot) and Blue Mountain. Send in and wait, send in and wait—the writer’s life.

I also met a new writing friend today, poet Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano, who works for one of my fundraising consultant clients. It’s always nice to meet writers while doing my ‘day-job’ work. He’s heading to Denver for the Association of Writing Programs conference this week. Some of my VONA homies will be there. Part of me wanted to go, but couldn’t afford it this year—maybe next year.

Lastly, I found out that the new issue of Instant City with my essay in it should be out any day now. There may be a reading or two in the works to launch this new issue, will post details as I find out about them. It will be nice to hold it in my hands and to read my words in print and not just online.





Knowing When to Say No

6 02 2010

One thing I’ve learned in my work as a fundraiser and consultant, and just personally in my life, is how to say ‘No’. No to more work, to projects that don’t really interest me, to allowing people and things into my life that would drain me more than nourish or enrich me, or that I’m just not ready for for whatever reason.

This week, I said ‘No’ to applying to another residency program, this time at the nearby Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Woodside, Calif. It looks like a great program and I could meet the deadline fairly easily, but after looking at the list of people they’ve accepted in the past, as well as their writing sample requirements for fiction/non-fiction writers (they request a chapter of a book), I realized I’m not ready yet. I’m just not at the stage in my writing career where I have enough material—namely, a real manuscript of a book that I’m working on—to make it into the program. But it’s all good, because I know now that Djerassi is one of the places I can apply to when I do have a manuscript that I’m trying to finish. Right now, I’m just trying to finish a series of short stories, which is plenty of work for the moment.

Saying ‘No’ can be very liberating—especially once I get over the guilt! It frees up my time to pursue things that do excite and nurture my creativity, helps me get clearer on what I want in my life, keeps me from being burnt-out which in turn keeps me healthier, and just makes me a happier person overall. And being happy is a very good thing.





Rest

2 02 2010

I’ve had lots of writing and editing to do these past few weeks, as I’ve detailed in earlier posts. In addition to my creative writing deadlines, I had seven (count ’em–seven!) documents to draft for my grant writing client. So needless to say, I’m a little tired of spending so many hours typing in front of the computer. But I’m happy to report that I’m not tired of writing—I wrote in my journal this morning and am now blogging away. But I am going to give myself a break and (besides writing this blog post) not ‘require’ myself to write today. If I feel like it, great, if the mood strikes me, awesome, but it’s not something I’m going to make myself do today. If I’ve learned one thing in my 38 years on this planet—and I learned this lesson relatively recently—it’s that the period of rest after a very busy and stressful period is extremely important. Not to just my overall health and well-being, but also to the creative fire within me, and my passion for writing. I need to rest, to ‘restock the well’, as Julia Cameron puts it. I need to frickin’ chill.

It’s not easy for me to do this—I am a Capricorn, Type-A overachiever who has defined myself very much by my accomplishments. I’ve had to learn the hard way—by working through chronic pain and the after-effects of a traumatic childhood—that rest and relaxation is crucial to being healthy and happy.

So for part of today and all of tomorrow, and maybe even part of Thursday, I will allow myself to take a break from writing. I trust I will get back on the ball when I need to. I do have another residency deadline in less than two weeks!





Riding the Wave (or, Glad to Not Have Writer’s Block Right Now)

20 01 2010

There are rare moments for me as a writer (and for many writers, from what I’ve heard/read), when your writing flows more smoothly than usual, when you can’t wait to sit down and start your hands moving, when you feel like writing is one of those things you will never stop doing. You actually enjoy the writing, even when it’s not coming out perfect–you enjoy the act in and of itself.

I feel fortunate to be having that feeling right now–yesterday and today. And good thing too, because I’m on deadline–actually, two deadlines–right now. I’m trying to finish up the application essays and my manuscript submissions for the Macondo Workshop, Sandra Cisnero’s annual writers’ workshop, and Blue Mountain Center’s residency, which takes place at a beautiful retreat house in the Adirondacks.

I’m not a particularly prolific writer–the combination of my often-annoying but sometimes useful perfectionism and my propensity towards distraction by work, house chores, my husband, whatever whatever, for hours on end being the cause–so I find these moments to be precious. I gotta milk them for all their worth. And obviously, when I have things I absolutely have to get done because of deadlines (I’ve tried to come up with less morbid, more positive terms, but ‘deadlines’ just works for me), it helps not to be blocked.

But is it the deadline that somehow breaks through my writer’s block? Or is it the fact that this blog and the other one that I started in the past week have helped me cut through some of my usual resistance to sitting down and typing? Who knows? I’m not going to question it, I’m just going to go with the flow and hope it takes me in the direction that I want to go.

And gets me to meet those deadlines!