When I was a teacher, I would always fantasize about a day when I would have the opportunity to write every day or almost every day. While teaching, I was often too exhausted at the end of the day to get motivated enough to work on my novel or write a short story or poem. When I did write, I would try to fit it in on the weekends, spending an hour or two here and there on writing new material or editing what I had previously written. That was my routine for about 5 years. When my daughter was born and I made the decision to stay home instead of going back to teaching, my goal was to work in a good amount of freelance writing to earn some extra income. Thankfully, I have found a decent amount of work writing web content. So, just as I once wished, I do write each and every day now, but the reality doesn’t look too much like my fantasy did.
When do I write now? Instead of taking advantage of quiet moments on the weekends, I now squeeze writing in whenever I can. Unlike before, I have deadlines now which often means staying up late, going on writing binges, and spending long hours staring at a computer screen. As taking care of my daughter is my top priority, the writing often happens at inconvenient times, times when I’m not inspired, and times when I honestly don’t feel like writing! So, in a way, I got forced into practicing some self-discipline with my writing which I never really did before. As with anything in life there are the pluses and the minuses. My writing life looks nothing like the dreamworld I created in my head 5 years ago, but that isn’t all bad. Here are my pros and cons of writing every day.
If you read my "about" page, you know that I started writing poetry at age 16. Now in my late 20s, I occasionally write poetry, but my focus has been more on my fiction. Since I don't want to lose my love for poetry (it's what got me started as a writer, after all), I want to start a new tradition on my blog: Throwback Thursday Poetry. Every Thursday I will post a "throwback" poem from my earlier days and my thoughts on it now. I pledge not to edit these gems no matter how cringe-worthy they may be. Let me grab a tattered notebook from my youth and we'll begin!
Each morning I awake to feel you,
Sharp, pulsating, and vengeful
The tight red cords of muscle
Pulling together to form a knot
Between my shoulder blades,
Aligned with my spine,
Where you punch and kick and bite
Like a newborn infant crying
For my attention, I rise
To carry you, stuck on my back,
My papoose, silent, growing like a weed,
I can’t reach to touch you, stroke you
I can only suffer you nagging at me,
Forcing me to hunch over, and
Battering the tears out of my eyes,
I cannot escape you knowing that
Only the hands that spin the knot
Are the ones that can massage it away.
My Thoughts Today:
First of all, I just want to say that I can't believe I have poems older than the iPhone. Ok, on to my more serious thoughts. I honestly can't remember writing this and I certainly can't remember what it was about as I'm sure the muscle ache is a metaphor for something. But, I'm glad to rediscover it as I can truthfully say that I enjoyed reading it. It's funny how reading your old writings can be so much like reading something someone else wrote. We, as humans, are constantly changing and I can really feel this when I read this poem. I'm going to go ahead and guess that I was thinking about an ex here when I wrote this, but I'd like to toot my own horn for a minute and say that I really nailed it when I was describing physical pain. And, 2006 Rachel did not even know what real pain was. But, after labor and childbirth, you better believe she does now. My daughter was born almost 4 months ago so the image of the newborn baby is really resonating with me today. It's clear from this poem that, in 2006, I viewed having a child as being nothing but a huge burden. I am happy to report that my present self has a completely different sentiment. In fact, no matter how much I hurt on a daily basis (it seems), I love carrying and holding my baby. I know she won't be this little for long.
On the whole, I like this little poem. I think I carried out the metaphor quite well and my descriptions of physical pain are spot-on. I wish I could remember what prompted me to write this, but I guess part of reading poetry is speculating what was going on in the poets mind. I can't wait to see what else is in these notebooks of mine, tune in next week for another TBT poem!
Listicles. They're everywhere you look. It seems like every time I read a blog post it is either a listicle in its entirety or it contains a list somewhere in the post. Facebook friends are sharing them left and right and they've even descended upon Medium.
Listicles are attention grabbing, they're quick and easy to read, and they are the "Readers Digest Condensed Version" of anything you'd ever want to know. As a web content writer, the listicle is a great tool to have in my kit. If I'm ever stuck for an idea for a blog post or online article, the listicle is my go-to format. Whatever the subject is, I know I can pop one of those bad boys out in about 20 minutes. When I'm done, I feel pretty efficient and that's a great feeling. I also know that since the general public is addicted to them, my work will be read. And that's why I love them.
The truth is listicles are a dime a dozen, anyone can easily read them just as almost anyone can easily write them. They don't dive too deep into anything so you don't have to even have to know what you're talking about to write them. This is why, as a fiction writer, I hate them.
I hate them because writing them does not take me out of my comfort zone. They don't require any extra creativity or research. They don't push the envelope. They are safe.
While this may be ok for web content writing, a field that values efficiency, it does not foster the right attitude for fiction writing. It's easy to fall into habits with our fiction writing. When we find a "formula" that works, it's very easy to use it over and over again to save time and to guarantee an acceptable outcome. However, the best fiction challenges us, it confuses us and surprises us. In order to be a writer of that kind of fiction, we must dare to be experimental and bend the rules.
The listicle approach to fiction writing may work to a degree, but abandoning it can stretch our creativity in ways we never thought possible. Great fiction has no "one size fits all" formula the way web content tends to, which makes it a challenge to work on both simultaneously. It can be done, however, when we put away our "listicle lens" when working on our fiction in favor of a kaleidoscope.
When I sat down to pen (with an actual pen, by the way), a writing assignment for my short fiction class at Notre Dame 8 short years ago, I didn't exactly know what I was getting myself into. I was given a writing prompt and, with it, I was to write a short story. At first, the prompt seemed impossible. I had no idea how to go about it. But, I sat down at my desk with my pen anyway and, suddenly, there he was - my protagonist!
At the time, I didn't know that this 5 page short story would slowly evolve into a complete, 50,000+ word novel. My protagonist and I have grown together throughout the process. We've been through thick and thin, we've dealt with periods of separation, and we've worked through countless struggles on the page and off. Now that I've finished fleshing out the story and I have put the black pen down in favor of the red, he and I don't seem as close as we once were. Editing is tedious and a bit dry. Through my editor's eyes, he is a particleboard cutout and I am sanding the edges. Through my writer's eyes, however, he was as real as any other human walking down the street.
The other night I found myself working through a problem in my head. I was frustrated, angry, and unable to make a decision. I looked at my weary face in the mirror and felt very alone. Just then, as suddenly as he entered my world for the first time, there he was once again, smiling, as if to say "Hello, my friend".
What would he do if he were in my shoes? I asked myself. If this were his problem and not mine, how would I, as an author, have him solve it?
Solutions, options, strategies became more clear to me. I was no longer angry and frustrated, but comforted, as if I really had been talking to a friend. I realized then the importance of the relationship between the author and the character. What makes a character compelling, complete, and intriguing to the reader? To me, I believe it is that very relationship. The fact that the author knows that character so very well that he or she can write them into existence, not just for themselves, but for the world.
A while back I wrote a blog entry about my initial thoughts on Medium. Now that I've really gotten my feet wet over there, I've found that I only have more questions and more thoughts about it. It truly is a fascinating network. I found I'm not the only one who muses about Medium. In fact, many Medium users muse about Medium ON Medium and sometimes those are the most entertaining stories to read. They write about ways to improve the network, what stories should and shouldn't be posted, how to start conversations with other writers, how to get more views, how to get a bigger readership, and on and on and on.
As a writer of fiction and poetry, the question I've been asking now is is there a place for poetry on Medium?
It is a well-established home for fiction and non-fiction, of course, and I do occasionally see some poetry. But, does that poetry get read or just skipped over? Poetry is certainly a dying art and an art that is often under appreciated. I periodically post poetry on my blog, but I am reluctant to share it on Medium. In some ways it just seems out of place. Another reason, is that it is so deeply personal and close to my heart, much more so than any of my fiction writing. Do I want it out in the open like that?
What we really need is a community like Medium that is just for poets and their poetry. That way, we'd all understand each other at least on a basic level. We would know how hard it is sometimes to share a poem with the public, we could talk about getting poetry published and if it is even a worthwhile pursuit, we could talk about WHY we even write something that it seems no one even wants to read (because we HAVE to, of course), and on and on and on.
I guess the question I'm asking is not so much is there a place for poetry on Medium, but is there a place for a poetry anywhere in the world today at all?
For the past week or so I've been getting to know medium.com, a new blogging platform designed for writers. When I first dove in, I had some pretty mixed feelings about the whole thing. However, as I have explored the site more and more, I've discovered what a useful and, honestly, entertaining tool it can be for a young writer.
If you don't already know, Medium allows users to share "stories". They can be about anything, any topic, in any style, in any form. There is no word or character limit like there is on Twitter, so you can write your heart out f you so choose. You write your "story", publish it, and it becomes visible to the other users who can choose to follow you, recommend you, and respond to your work.
My initial hesitation about using a site like this was that I immediately felt as though it was a place where writers were encouraged to just give their work away for free. And, in truth, when you publish a story on Medium you are giving it to the community for no monetary reward. Seems kind of disheartening, doesn't it? It may take hours, days, weeks, months, and so on to write a great short story or a great article. Shouldn't we writers get paid for our hard work? Of course my first instinct is to say "yes".
Then, I started reading the stories. Most are well-written, well-researched, and thought-provoking. They are written by writers who, you can tell, care very deeply about their craft. Sure, there are a few stories in the mix that aren't as strong, but, on the whole, the home page is a delicious buffet of intelligent content. Scrolling through and reading the stories on Medium doesn't feel as silly as browsing Buzzfeed, as intrusive as scrolling through the news feed on Facebook, or as random as checking Twitter. In fact, for a person with a true love of reading, it can be quite addicting!
All of a sudden, using Medium didn't seem to be about giving away my hard work for free. It was more about being a part of a community and contributing to something meaningful. For that reason, I've decided to continue to use it. As of now, I've only published one of my short stories on it, but I hope to post more soon. In the meantime, I will savor the words of of other writers, like myself, who have families and day jobs and other responsibilities, but still make the time to write.
Rachel Boury Baxter
Writer: web content by day, fiction by night.