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

Where I’m At and Where I’ll Be: Macondo, PAWA blog, Litquake

28 07 2010

I’ve been pretty absent from the blogosphere of late—busy with my consulting work and getting ready for the Macondo Workshop, which is where I am at this moment, typing away in my dorm room—but I am doing stuff, as I mentioned in my last post, just not talking about it here. Still have to figure out how to make time for my blogs so that they can reflect what is going on in my life. Any suggestions folks have on how to do this would be most welcome! It’s all about balance.

As evidence that I’ve been a busy girl, I helped interview a couple of fellow Pinay VONAites from this past summer for a post on the PAWA blog. Thanks to Barbara Jane Reyes for hooking us up.

And my writing buddy and fellow speculative fiction writer Claire Light asked me to read this coming October at the annual Litquake festival in San Francisco. This will be a reading sponsored by the Carl Brandon Society, which supports the development of science fiction/speculative fiction writing by people of color. I’m honored to be part of this particular event, and to participate in Litquake for the second time.

But for now, here at Macondo, I’ve had the privilege of meeting and/or connecting on a deeper level with some amazing folks, like:

Gabriela Lemmons, a poet who’s one of the founding members of the Latino Writers Collective in Kansas City, MO. The group sounds amazing and breaks all the stereotypes many of us have about whitebread Midwestern life.

Veronica Reyes, an accomplished educator and poet who hails from East Los Angeles, and has been cracking me up and keepin’ it real the way only El Lay folks can.

Poet and political activist Vanessa Huang, whom I met at VONA a couple years ago. She’s currently working on a book of poems and self-organized what sounds like was an amazing feedback session from her community of comrades and poets back in Oakland. I hope she writes about it as it sounds like a fascinating complement to the traditional writing workshop that’s much more rooted in community.

The fierce poet and editor Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhran, whom I bonded with the second night I was here after I had a mini-breakdown (long story). We then realized we had a LOT of acquaintances and friends in common back in the Bay and that we even used to hang out at the same queer dance club back in the ’90s! He just finished editing an upcoming issue of Yellow Medicine Review that will be the first of its kind, as it will feature writing by indigenous queer folks from all over the world.

Ching-In Chen, a poet who published a book, The Heart’s Traffic, last year and recently completed her MFA in Creative Writing at UC Riverside. Ching-In is smart, funny and super-talented. I’m glad I could catch up with her here to get my signed copy of her book.

And poet and fellow Bay Area nonprofit worker Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano, whom I know because I did some fundraising consulting with the organization he works for, Justice Matters Institute, a few months ago. It’s been good to briefly connect with Lorenzo as a writer here at Macondo.

More updates to come soon. Got to rush off to workshop in a few—my day to get critiqued!

Gearing up

13 06 2010

Sorry I’ve been so absent, but work has been super-busy lately, and I anticipated that my writing life on all levels would fall off during this hectic time. But I was okay with that because I have two writing workshops coming up: next week at VONA in San Francisco, and next month in San Antonio when I head to Sandra Cisneros’ Macondo Workshop to study with one of my old professors from Cal, Carla Trujillo. I’m really excited about both workshops and looking forward to talking about writing, being around my writing buddies and meeting new ones, and just immersing myself in my literary world and leaving my everyday work-world behind for a few weeks.

Of course, my ultimate goal is to merge these two worlds more fully, and I’ve taken a few steps in that direction, but still have a ways to go. I did get one of my short stories placed in a publication recently—and, even more exciting, will be getting paid for it too!—but I’m hesitant to say where just yet since things in the literary world can be a bit unsure at times. Like the fact that I never got any copies of one of the anthologies in which one of my non-fiction pieces was recently published.

In any case, I’ve got a lot of reading to do in the coming few weeks, and will be doing a fair amount of writing too, I’m sure. Will try to blog during the workshops and fill you in on what’s going on.

I Miss Writing

23 05 2010

It’s true, I’ve been spending a lot of time writing—but for work, not my own creative writing. I have to admit that I am one of the lucky writers who’s not completely broke all the time, or who can actually still work on my grammatical and technical writing ‘chops’ and get paid to do so (I do fundraising consulting which entails a fair amount of writing), but I really miss spending more time on my creative writing. Fiction, non-fiction, even poetry (which I rarely try my hand at, but when I do, it’s pretty fun).

This blog helps fulfill my craving a little, and I have been working on a new short story for a friend’s online publication, but I miss the days when I had more time to sit and write, or think about writing, or read whatever I felt like reading. Ironically, I don’t think I really valued those days when I did have them—of course, when I had days in a row with little paid consulting work I mostly goofed off or cleaned my house rather than write—so now the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak. I am planning to go on a short writing retreat soon—not sure where, but I just know I have to get out of Dodge and away from the distractions of the city, my apartment and everyday life and get some solid hours of writing in.

But even this craving is a sign of progress to me, because when I was working full-time 9-to-5 I could go for months without writing and it didn’t really bother me all too much. Now, writing has become more of a habit, a good habit that I don’t want to break. I started this blog and my other blog to help keep me writing, to keep me accountable to my own writing goals, and I’m glad I did. I still don’t blog as much as I’d like to at times, but it’s nice to know that these blogs are here for me to just scribble (or type, I guess!) a few words and thoughts and send them out to the world with a click of my trackpad.

Still, though, I miss my fiction writing, and when I’ve sat down lately (like I did the other day with my friend A. at a cafe) and work on a story, I feel a different part of my brain, my consciousness come alive. And I like that feeling. A lot.

Writing Workshops Comin’ Up

5 05 2010

Despite the fact that I have so little time to write creatively right now because of work overload (but hey, I gotta make my money somehow!), I have to find some time to work on the manuscripts I need to turn in soon for VONA. I just found out that I got into the Advanced Fiction workshop with Mat Johnson, but didn’t hear back about Week Two, for which I applied to Chris Abani’s workshop as my first choice and Tananarive Due’s workshop as my second choice. (Incidentally, I just finished Due’s modern-day vampire novel My Soul to Keep. I already turned in my manuscript for the Macondo workshop on revision that I’m signed up for with Carla Trujillo, who was one of my professors at Cal long, long ago when I was just an idealistic youngster.

I’m looking forward to having two, if not three weeks’ worth of ‘writing time’ to hang out with my literary buddies, talk about writing, critique each others’ work and generally cavort about town and have fun. I’ve never been to San Antonio either (or Texas at all for that matter) so I’m looking forward to doing a lil’ traveling this summer.

Keeping my fingers crossed that I get into a VONA Week Two workshop…wish me luck!

(No) Time to Write

24 04 2010

You can probably guess from my absence on this blog that I’ve been busy with other things. Unfortunately, they have not been writing-related. On the other hand, my fundraising consulting business is thriving, which will help me take off three weeks this summer for writing workshops and retreats. So it’s a blessing for my writing that I’m so busy thusfar.

But this brings me back to a question that a lot of people I know who want to write but have intense, 40+hours a week jobs ask me often: “How do I find time to write?” I answered that question in an earlier post, and I find myself turning to that post now to remind me that, even though I haven’t had time to write more than a couple blog posts and journal entries over the past few weeks, I am still a writer, and I will find the time to write when I need to.

For example, I have two deadlines coming up in May that I’m setting out to meet, one for this Visions 2042 project: Notes toward a Racial Order Transformed, and another for fiction deadline, a web site that features content about sharing as a path to sustainability. I don’t know yet if my super-packed work schedule over the next few weeks will allow me to meet them, but I’m going to try my hardest and do my best.

And that’s pretty much all one can be expected to do. If we all tried our best most of the time with most of the things we do, I think the world would be a much better place.

This is My Job

27 03 2010

It’s taken me a long, long, long time—did I say it took me a long time?—to claim that writing is one of my ‘jobs’. Yes, I spend more of my time doing fundraising consulting for social justice nonprofits. Yes, that’s how I make almost all of my money (like 99.5% of it). Yes, I enjoy my ‘day job’, but I’m also committed to nurturing my writing and spending the time I need to spend on it to make it the best it can be.

I’ve made an explicit choice NOT to attend a Creative Writing MFA program. Not because I don’t think they’re good or important—I think they are great resources for writers’ artistic and professional development, and most of the writers I tend to spend time around are in or have graduated from MFA programs. My choice was more practical, the reasons being: 1) After having been in the work-world for nearly two decades now, I’m really not fond of the idea of being broke and / or crushed under loads of debt again; and 2) I am prioritizing starting a family with my husband right now, and for this process I would like to be in a relatively healthy, low-stress mode, and being in school AND working AND writing AND trying to be a mother does not sound like a low-stress life to me!

So, one could argue that I am prioritizing my personal life, my mental sanity, and my financial security over my artistic development and my career as a writer. Will I regret it later? Maybe. But I will know that that was the choice I made, and I also know that if and when I have a child, I don’t think that anything else will really matter to me. Not to mention that being a mother will bring a million more stories and perspectives into my consciousness that I don’t have access to right now.

All that said, I have just this week realized what I need to do to really push my writing forward, to be able to prioritize my time and energy for writing, and to push back the other things (mostly my ‘day job’ as a fundraising consultant, which I love, by the way) that get in the way: I have to think of writing as my job. One of two jobs, yes, but a job nonetheless.

When I think about my writing as a job—one that doesn’t yet pay me much money, granted, or win me much fame or publicity, yet—my whole attitude and energy towards it shifts. For example, I reserve Fridays for writing. I’ve learned in the past year since I left my full-time day job that if I don’t set aside AT LEAST one day to write, I won’t write. I need that at least a full day to let go of all the consulting stuff and just focus on my writing. I may check my work email on that day, but I will NOT schedule appointments or meetings. It’s been tough to do, but I’m really starting to maintain my boundaries on this one.

Because if my writing was a ‘job’ the way my consulting work is a paid job—for which I am accountable to other people to get things done, produce documents, send emails, make phone calls, etc.—then I would spend the hours needed to do that job well. I used to resist this idea of writing as one of my jobs. I wanted it to feel creative, fulfilling, joyful and somewhat spontaneous—in other words, like a hobby. I was in a bit of denial about how hard it would be, how much I would need to struggle with my own internal barriers to writing, let alone the difficulties in finding time to write or finding places to get my work published. I didn’t want to make it feel like ‘work’.

But somehow, in a very organic and natural way, over the course of the last year, writing has become one of my jobs. My work gets published (not my fiction, granted, but my non-fiction has). I have two pieces coming out in two separate publications over the next several months (see my About page for more details). I maintain two blogs and a Twitter feed to promote them and my writing, through which I virtually ‘met’ a fellow writer who recently asked me to write a review of her book when it’s released this summer. My last published article (for which I did get paid, thank you) came out just last month.

And there are the unanticipated appreciations from others that keep me going and inspire me to continue on this sometimes frustrating writing path. Like the email I got the other day from a fellow fundraiser whom I recently told about my writing. He wrote, “I have been telling alot of people about the consultant from the Bay area who said, ‘I would take the job, but want to devote time to my creative writing’. Your words are ringing in my head as an important lesson about prioritizing creativity. Thank you so much for reminding me, by example, that creativity takes time.”

So yes, I am a working writer. I’m learning how to claim that ‘title’ and know that it’s true. And, I must say, I think I’m a pretty damn good writer, too.