January 2 – Write 500 words every day

Right now, as you read this, I’m driving up the east coast back home from my Christmas vacation. This vacation felt like a whirlwind and I’m disappointed that it’s over. I could use another day of reading by the Christmas tree in my pajamas. Of course, since I’m going to spend 8 hours today in the car, I’m not entirely sure I’m going to complete this goal today, but it’s an important one.

I keep saying to myself that I want to write. I want to be able to call myself a writer. Without some consistent writing, though, I don’t feel like I deserve that label. 500 words is a manageable number. It’s a number I know I can accomplish. Unlike previous failed attempts, see every NaNoWriMo ever, I’m not going to be working on a specific project. Hopefully this will kick start some ideas!

So, the big question: do my daily blog posts count? They are comparably short blog posts, and I’m working on them in chunks. I’m going to try and reach the 500 words without counting blog posts, but in the spirit of keeping this a relatively stress-free endeavor, let’s say the blog posts can count if I need them to.

I have a few other writing goals, all of which will be helped out by writing 500 words a day. Like the every day blog post, the idea of this one is to make writing a habit. You see, I know that I want to write. I talk about writing all the time. But actually sitting down and doing it? I read and read advice on writing and they all say mostly the same thing: write even when you haven’t been hit by inspiration.

So, that’s what I’m going to do!

Read More/Blog More Poetry – May

It looks like I needed the more flexible schedule than anyone this week! With Memorial Day traveling and busy getting ready for BEA Blogger Con/Uncon (I’m planning on attending both) and BEA, it’s been a crazy week! I have also not read much poetry this month. You see, when I’m really enjoying novels, I don’t always reach for the poetry and I’ve read some really great novels lately. I think I’ll just ramble about poetry, how does that sound?

I also write poetry. I used to write it a lot more, but I haven’t written much of anything since leaving college, except for blog posts. I have a plan to change this, but one thing I did to motivate myself was I sent one of my college poems to a literary magazine.

It was rejected.

But it was such a nice rejection letter! Really! They said it was a “close contender” and they even pulled out a line that they really liked. If you tell me that they say this to everyone, I will put my fingers in my ears and sing “lalalalala” until you are done. I’m really glad I sent it in. Something about the rejection letter has been motivating. I’ve thought about printing it out and pinning it up on my desk. It feels like the start of something.

So what has your poetry focus been this month? Writing, reading, exploring? Share it with us in the Mr. Linky! I’ll do a round up of all the posts for Friday.

Thoughts Without Cigarettes by Oscar Hijuelos

Though I’ve never read any of Oscar Hijuelos’s fiction (not for lack of wanting to… I’ve always been interested in Hijuelos, it just hasn’t happened yet), I was deeply intrigued by his memoir Thoughts Without Cigarettes.  Hijuelos moved to the United States when he was just a young boy and Thoughts Without Cigarettes chronicles his life from before his birth, when his parents met, to his struggle for success as an adult and fiction writer. Though I have never read any of Hijuelos’s fiction, it’s clear to see through this memoir how fabulous of a writer he is. Some of my very favorite parts were in the beginning when he was talking about his visit to Cuba as a young boy. He gets across that dreamy reality that is a childhood memory so well.

A lot of times it feels as though you are reading fiction or even poetry, Hijuelos just has a talent for describing every day things with beautiful language that makes it seem unreal or better than reality. That’s not a complaint or a bad thing at all, in fact I love reading memoirs like this. Like I said in my post about Breaking Up with God, everyone has a story to tell, it’s just about how well you tell it. Hijuelos has a pretty remarkable story and he tells it brilliantly. When Hijuelos moves on from telling the story of his childhood this dreamy quality disappears a little bit, but rightfully so.

My biggest complaint is that this book is long, probably longer than a memoir needs to be and there certainly were parts that interested me more than others. It’s a difficult book to get into because the amount of detail, but I recommend picking up this book for an interesting story about finding your place in between two cultures, writing, and family.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for sending me a copy of this book to review! 

2011, welcome to my life.

We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched.  Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives… not looking for flaws, but for potential.  – Ellen Goodman

A couple of days ago, that seems like forever ago (it was last year after all), I reflected back on 2010 and now it is time to think ahead to 2011.  We are only 3 days in to the new year and I feel almost refreshed and renewed, with a plan for kick starting the new year as soon as I return home on Wednesday.   There are just a few things I want to write down now so I can remember them in December.  Sure, I suppose you could call them resolutions, but they are more just a loose plan.  These ideas are just a way to guide my life in the coming year, to remind myself what I really believe is important.

So I’m going to take the idea from that quote above by journalist Ellen Goodman.  This is not about finding flaws, but finding potential.  What do I have the potential to do in 2011?

1. Enjoy food. Let’s face it, resolving to lose weight or exercise is too easy to say and too hard to maintain.  And let’s face one other fact – I love food. I love to eat, and I love to cook, and I love to go out to eat.  What I need is more of a balance.  I need to enjoy my food and I need to be okay with the food decisions I make.  I want to eat less meat (but not give it up) and really enjoy in-season vegetables.  I want to have an intimate relationship with my food.  I’m going to be driving a lot and commuting this semester and I need to be excited about the food I have to take with me in my lunch box (that will be my lunch, dinner and breakfast box – I might need to invest in a cooler).

2. Enjoy movement.  Before I left for Spain and while I was in Spain, I was actively trying to exercise.  Since I got back, a series of colds and laziness has derailed that.  I noticed a huge difference in both my mood and the way I felt physically.  I’ve gotten sick more and I’ve just felt unbalanced.  I need to get back into exercising regularly, especially now that I know it’s something I really miss in my life when I’m not doing it.

3. Enjoy the world. I loved traveling to Spain this year, but I don’t know that I’m going to be able to do a big trip like that again for a while. So what can I do to check my travel bug for a while?  Read more world literature.  I will be attempting to read a book from every country in the world.  This is a lifelong goal, not just for this year.  There are plenty of countries I’ve never visited through literature – and why wouldn’t I?

4. Enjoy the past.  I told myself I was going to read more classics last year and I did not.  I still want to do this, so I will be making more of an effort to do so in 2011.

5. Enjoy art. Memory recently mentioned on Twitter that she was going to be reading a graphic novel a week.  I decided to jump on this bandwagon,  along with Vasilly.  It’s unofficial and not a commitment so much as an opportunity.  Especially when I will be in the middle of school, mostly reading novels for class, this will be a welcome relief.

6. Enjoy the books I own.  I own too many books that I’m not reading.  My goal is to balance this equation.  For every library book I read, I want to read 2 books that I own.  For every review copy?  Three.  If I don’t desperately love the book, I want to pass books on to new readers when I finish, either through my half.com store, through IRL friends or through passing them on to blog readers.

7. Enjoy the simple pleasures in life. I believe there is beauty everywhere and joy can be found in the smallest daily things.  This Christmas season was stressful and I’m happy to have it behind me.  I want to leave as many stresses as I can behind me and get rid of some of my anxieties.  Life is too short to be anxious and stressed out all the time.  Everything will be okay.

8. Enjoy the things I already enjoy. What I mean by this is not to forget everything about my life that is already amazing.  Like all the people in my life that I love.  How lucky I am in so many ways.  Remembering, always, that the good outweighs the bad, as long as you let it.

9. Enjoy saving. I’m going to try and set aside at least $50 a week into a savings account, possibly more if I have it.  I can smile to myself when I realize that means I will have almost $3000 in savings to start 2012.

10. Enjoy creativity.  I want to do all the little creative things that made my 2010 that much better.  I want to continue to crochet, especially by finishing my granny squares blanket, and learn to knit more than just one stitch.  I want to write more and hopefully that will become a reality.

11. Enjoy diversity. I have never been a one-kind-of-book reader. I like YA, I like literary fiction, I like comics, I like MG fiction, I like poetry, I like short stories.  If it is made of words, you can guarantee that I like some manifestation of it, somewhere.  The key is finding a balance here, as well.   I did a good job of this last year and want to continue.  People of all colors, gender identities, sexual orientations, ages, nationalities, political persuasions and beliefs should be featured in what I read and I hope in2011 they will be.

12. Enjoy change.  Isn’t this always the hardest one?  Like last year, 2011 will be filled with changes.  It’s just that time in my life, right?  Even though there’s a lot of uncertainty about where 2011 will take me, I just need to embrace those changes and look forward to the exciting things they will bring to my life.

So happy 2011 everyone, I’m thrilled that 2010 is behind me and I am looking forward to everything 2011 will bring me!

Writing is like dancing.

When I finally sat down to write this post, I couldn’t do it.

That damn blinking cursor stared back at me and just kept incessantly blinking and blinking until I thought, “No, I’m not going to write this post.”  And it won again.

But I’m not going to let it.  I’m not going to let it tell me that I can’t start that previous sentence with a but and the one before that with an and.  I’m not going to sit here and stop myself from doing what I love, because I doubt my own skill.  What I love is writing, what I love is starting with a thought and putting it into words for others to read.  That is what this post is about: writing.

First, though, I’m going to talk about dancing.  When I was in high school, I used to dance a lot.  I would dance at parties, I would dance at dances, I would dance in private and in public.  Somewhere along the way, I stopped.  I used to believe that I was a decent dancer, that I could move to the rhythm and that others thought I could dance well, too.  Something, and it would be too difficult to pinpoint what it was, made me stop.  Suddenly, when I danced I felt awkward and large.  I didn’t know what to do with my face or my hands; when I danced I looked ridiculous.  So what changed?  Was it me?  Suddenly did I forget what rhythm felt like?  Did I ever know in the first place?

Nothing about the way I danced changed, but it was my perception of the way I danced.  Something about me changed.  Maybe someone made fun of the way I danced, maybe I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, but suddenly I cared what I looked like and not how I felt.

Around the same time I was dancing, I was writing, too.  I wrote everything and anything, and I wrote every. single. day.  I had a journal that I kept and I would write fiction and poetry, too.  And I thought I was good at it.  I worked at it, I studied it.  I read it.  I lived it and breathed it.  Eventually, I found other passions that complemented my love of the written word, like a love of languages and how they work.  Eventually, writing became less and less important.  It went from being an obsession to being a hobby; how can you call yourself a writer if it is just a hobby and not something that you can’t survive without?

So, suddenly, I started to doubt myself.  If I’m not writing every day, if I’m not constantly working at this, then I am not a writer.  I do not have what it takes to be a writer.  I gave up that dream.

But why?  Why do I have to feel validated in front of other people to label myself, to pursue something that I am passionate about?  Why do I continually let my own perception of myself fail me?  If I have stopped writing, I have no one to blame but myself because I have been nothing if not encouraged by others to do this.  In the same way that dancing now seems awkward and feels  unnatural, so does picking up a pen to paper or opening a blank Word document.  It is all because I have doubted myself.

I signed up for NaNoWriMo because I thought it would kick start something in me that has been dormant for years.  It has not.  I have not written a word because the task seems too daunting.   I am too scared to nurture an idea into a novel, because I do not feel relevant, I do not feel like I could come up with something worth reading.

And if that is the case, I am missing the point.

A close friend of mine jokingly said to me the other day that she had a sign from the universe that I should keep writing.  Something I wrote randomly popped into her head and she didn’t know why.  Obviously, it was a sign.  Then another friend, on Facebook, asked in a meme I’ve seen floating around to name 15 authors that have influenced our writing.  Here is my list:

1. Derek Walcott
2. Philip Larkin
3. ee cummings
4. Tim O’Brien
5. John Steinbeck
6. Madeleine L’Engle
7. Louise Erdrich
8. Yusef Komunyakaa
9. Mary Oliver
10. Pablo Neruda
11. Jeffery Eugenides
12. Barbara Kingsolver
13. Haruki Murakami
14. Sandra Cisneros
15. Sherman Alexie

Did anyone on this list every wonder if they were good enough?  Maybe, but it obviously hasn’t stopped them.  They had stories to tell and poems to write and they wrote them.  I don’t know if these are signs from the universe, but it certainly has made me stop and think for a minute.

This is what I love.  This is what feels natural, even if I have to remind myself now and again of that fact.  I will not let myself be intimidated by a blinking cursor or my own insecurities, I will keep writing.   Those authors have given me something special, they have influenced the way I write and the stories I tell, and I shouldn’t let that gift go to waste.  But I will not write for them, I will only write for myself.

And I’m not going to stop.