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Writer Life

Finding the Lessons in Author Memoirs & Biographies

My memoir and biography shelves have been growing. Since we moved into our house, I’ve gone from maybe half a shelf in my built-in bookcase to almost two shelves, and they don’t even include the books still boxed up in my parents’ basement. I don’t seem to have a certain topic that stands out on those shelves, with a mixture of feminist, nerdy, and self-improvement books (and some combinations of those), but as a writer, I’d call the ones by authors my favorite, the ones in which we learn about their writing lives and processes.

I’ve always had an interest in the lives of writers. It began with Sylvia Plath’s story and the autobiographical aspects of The Bell Jar and advanced to include Stephen King’s On Writing and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. My interests seemed to branch out from just biography to biography with a good helping of how-to. Most recently, I ordered books by and about Joyce Carol Oates and David Foster Wallace. I had downloaded Oates’ essay colleciton, The Lost Landscape: A Writer’s Coming of Age, in the fall and quickly realized that it was one I’d both love and need to own to devote my full attention to it. When I found it on Book Outlet in early January, I also did a quick search for David Foster Wallace’s essay collections and found Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace. I knew I needed both.The thing I love about these kinds of books, the kind that give you some insight into a person (a writer), isn’t just the overt lessons they can teach–like in On Writing and Bird by Bird–but also the things we learn just by hearing their stories. They teach us how the writer dealt with some kind of adversity in their life and their field, whether it was lack of support from others or confidence in themselves, or the pace at which they managed to reach their point of success (if at all). To me, they’re not only resonant on a human level, but also on a writer level. In so many biographies we read about a person’s struggles and how they pushed through; we know they did because we already see how the story ends–in this case, in publication. But it’s the journey that we can learn from and, in some cases, emulate in our own trials.

Often the answers and actions can feel obvious–ask for help, just keep writing (drawing, working, etc.)–but so much of what makes a difference is seeing someone else experience those struggles, those negative feelings that we get, too, and succeed. It’s the very definition of inspiration. You can hear the message repeated by those around you, even those who love you, but it’s when you finally hear it through the right voice that it sticks. The right voice, for me, is other writers because I know they’ve been here.

While some of my favorite role models are my own peers and friends, the ones who sit beside me in real time, and real life, and who will hold hands with me through our challenges, it can be nothing less than inspiring to read and learn from those who have already succeeded, whatever that looks like in their eyes and mine. Maybe it’s writing their memoir. Maybe it’s writing a whole bookstore display of works. Whatever that benchmark, they’ve reached a point where they believe, even a little, that their story is necessary to tell–necessary to themselves, and necessary to others.

February 20, 2017
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Dear Stephen: A Love Letter to a Horror Master

Dear Stephen,

Carrie White was my first. I met her midway through high school, when I was also an awkward, angry teenager. She intrigued me with her pitiful self, her inability to stick up for herself against the mean girls and mean boys and abusive mother—but I also felt a deep sympathy and anger at the way those around her let her down. My tolerance for bullying is nonexistent, and every time I reread, I have to talk myself down from a rage cliff. There may be an element of the supernatural within the novel, but of all the books of yours I’ve read thus far, Carrie feels the most real.

I’ve been an avid fan ever since—though not quite to the Annie Wilkes level, thank goodness—even if I’m not the fastest. Sure, they’re not perfect novels (is there even such a thing?), but they’re damn fine entertainment.

Pennywise is my most recent.

I was, for the first time in these past nine years, driven to actual fear by one of your books: It. I spent a portion of the summer alone in my house, and in my own infinite wisdom I read the book most nights before bed, with only my fat oaf of a dog as protection, so as I’d shut the lights off and snuggle into the blankets, it was easy for my imagination to run wild. I couldn’t count the number of nights I would get up to double and triple check the locks on the doors.

It appeals to my coming-of-age cravings, the constant need I have to dive into the lives of adolescents, which I can only assume is a result of my total anxiety over my own adulthood. It takes me deep into that summer of 1958 when the Losers Club lived to tell their tell—but never did, and rightly so; who would believe this rag-tag group of pals? “They’re only telling tales and having fun,” the adults would say. And I would fear for every one of them as they drew closer to the answers and to It.

It’s masterful, that crafting of a character most commonly known only as It throughout the book. Most people, fan or not, would recognize Pennywise, but few—including myself—realize that he’s only one face of the fearsome creation lurking throughout the novel. It’s clever and even somewhat amusing to give something as grand and terrifying a name so simple. It’s exactly what you could expect from a group of eleven year olds.

My Stephen King collection is small in relation to your lengthy resume, but I can only hope it will keep growing with each year. Maybe someday I’ll even catch up.

Your Constant Reader,
Sonya

February 6, 2017
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eulogy. | a poem

Posted in Writer Life, Writing by

I see stars
and lightning bugs flying higher
until I can’t tell
which is which
in the humid dark of a July sky.
It’s true; there is beauty
still, but
I am not ready for it
tonight.

 


If you enjoyed this piece, please consider becoming a Patreon sponsor, checking out my zine shop, or just buying me a cup of coffee to help support my writing. Every dollar makes a difference and allows me to keep plugging along at my work.

February 3, 2017
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It’s Launch Day!

Posted in Writer Life by

You guys! It’s official! My Patreon is now live and ready to go. I don’t expect everyone to jump on board right away, if at all, but I will ask that you share the news with anyone who you think might be interested in supporting my work.

In an effort to make my writing accessible to as many readers as possible, starting in February, I’ll be posting pieces of poetry and flash fiction here on my blog twice a month. Much of my fiction and poetry is currently available only by paying for it, either through my zines on Etsy or through Patreon. While I write in the hope that I’ll be able to make my living from it in the future, I also write simply because I love it, and I want to share it.

Sometimes you need to show people what you’re doing before they can trust you enough to, you know, spend money on you, so for me it makes sense to share what I can. Kind of like those free samples of cheeses and dips in the grocery store, y’know?

You can head on over to the Patreon campaign page to check it out, see what I have for rewards, and maybe share the link on a couple of sites if you have a moment because I’d be indescribably grateful for it.

If you’ve got any questions, feedback, or general comments, please let me know. I’d love to hear what anyone has to say.

January 16, 2017
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To Ask or Not to Ask: Considering Patreon and Other Options

Posted in Personal, Writer Life by

I’ve been trying to set a writing routine for myself over the past few days; I fell off the wagon sometime in September, and I fell hard. The only upside to this is that I finally started reading again, but not creating is a steep price to pay for Netflix binges that have no foreseeable endpoint. The past several months, though, have been difficult. A lot of days took the life out of me, and it was all I could do to pick up a book and make a good meal for dinner.

For even longer than that, though, I’ve been eyeing Patreon as an option for my work. I learned about it shortly before I read Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking, and it’s intriguing. My biggest fear isn’t that people won’t use it, though. It’s not taking that step to ask with the potential of “no” as the answer. It’s the concern that I won’t be able to keep up with rewards. When I’m feeling crushed, I don’t know for how long or how hard it is until I’m in the thick of it. It’s hard to even know that it’s coming, so I’m afraid I’ll shirk my responsibilities, especially when people are paying real money for me to fulfill them.

I try to tell myself that it’ll be motivation, that creating a Patreon page for my writing will help keep me from falling apart and hold me accountable. I try to believe that it’ll be helpful in, well, all of my goals. It’ll be a good thing. It’s something I can handle. But being my habitually pessimistic self, I’m very skeptical about all of these declarations. I have a hard time believing in myself, which is rather tragic, isn’t it?

I do have a couple of rewards in mind for various pledge points, including flash fiction stories, which I’ve just started incorporating into my hourly writing sessions, in which I bounce from project to project based on what’s floating around in my brain at any given moment, and I’m considering a free option, as well, such as a newsletter-style monthly story. It’d only be one small piece per month, or maybe part of a serial (shit, that’s an awesome idea), rather than say, three stories for $5 a month or something like that, but I think I like that as an option because it could get people exposed to my writing without having to pay anything in the beginning, and then if they chose to pay for more, they could.

I feel like I’m going to go back and forth on this because it feels like such a good idea, but it’s such a scary one at the same time. I guess I’m what I’m really looking for is some feedback, so if you’ve got any thoughts, let me have ’em.

December 19, 2016
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On Skipping NaNoWriMo 2016

Posted in Personal, Writer Life by

On November 1, I was in a three-room cottage near the east coast of Ireland on my honeymoon. My heart broke a little bit that day because I knew I wouldn’t be home for almost a week, and as much as I wanted to, I just couldn’t find it in me to try NaNoWriMo this year when I would be struggling through five whole days at the very beginning. I hadn’t even brought my computer with me. Sure, I could have started writing by hand, but I think we all know it’s so much easier when the word processor can keep a word count for you.

Now it’s we’re almost through November, and I’m still disappointed. I’ve been seeing so many people working on their own NaNoWriMo projects this year, and I’m both excited for and jealous of them all. I love hearing people’s updates–and struggles–as they put their heart into something that might grow bigger come December or might not. Either way, they’re committed for at least these thirty days, and it’s wonderful and inspiring.

It is also ZineWriMo, so I am using that as inspiration to get through a new issue of Whatsername, but to an extent, it’s just not the same: it’s a smaller commitment overall, with not real word count requirement, nothing except, “Make a zine!” to push me through the month. The payoff just doesn’t feel equivalent, even if I’m excited for this issue.

It has always been a dream of mine to write a book, as I know it has been for so many people, and it’s so frustrating to feel like the past few years have been a complete struggle in this goal. Especially since publishing my chapbook, my writing has fallen by the wayside. I don’t know if it’s a result of being further and further removed from a school environment or just the fact that 2016 overall has been, let’s just say it, a shitty year. The irony is that given all the personal things I’ve dealt with this year on top of the public issues we’ve all gone through, you would think I might want to write more, might want to use it as a therapeutic tool–and I do want to. I just can’t seem to find it in myself to do that.

So I’m heartbroken to be missing out on NaNoWriMo this year, even if it’s of my own choosing. There’s not much I love more than the glide of a favorite pen on paper or hearing the quick clicking of my keyboard, and it’s something I really need right now, but it was something I just couldn’t do. Committing myself would have lead to nothing but frustration and disappointment–which I guess isn’t a whole lot different from how I’m feeling now.

The best solace I can find is in the fact that there’s no rule NaNoWriMo has to be done in November. I mean, it does to actually be NaNoWriMo, but I can commit myself to writing 1,500 words a day for thirty days any month I choose, except maybe February.

I’d like to say I have big writing goals for next year after how slow 2016 has gone for me, but I don’t. At best I have some vague ideas I would like to accomplish, but there’s nothing concrete in mind right now.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? How’s it going for you?

November 23, 2016
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The Dream Won’t Die and I Don’t Know How to Deal

Posted in Personal, Writer Life by

When I was in high school, I had an attic bedroom with hot pink, black, and lime green walls, and much of the surface was plastered with scraps of doodles and song lyrics, clippings from Rolling Stone, SPIN, and my personal favorite, Alternative Press. Oh, Alt Press, my old friend.

It wasn’t always my plan to go to college and enter the secondary education program; I made that decision only shortly after I was accepted, and it’s one I regret quite often to be honest. But this post isn’t about that; rather, it’s about the dream I’d harbored before that of signing up as a journalism major to work for a music magazine like Alt Press. I would reference their website for assignments in my high school journalism class and dream up elaborate scenarios in which I was out interviewing bands, writing up profiles on my favorites, and living this exciting life revolving around writing.

As you already know, that’s not how life turned out for me, because my seventeen-year-old self had her hopes crushed by a nitpicky journalism teacher who couldn’t be bothered to explain why he was repeatedly asking me to rewrite the articles I was working on and actually teach me something but instead just kept tweaking my focus to keep me out of his hair and from actually accomplishing a piece. (I’m not bitter. No, not at all. It’s only that I still remember fuming after each meeting we had to go over the articles I’d be working on as he would tell me to go at it from a completely different angle without explaining why. But I’m certainly not bitter, if that’s what you think.)

This is one of the things that I regret most days and don’t know how to change at this point, eight years after the fact. I still read issues of Alternative Press, now downloaded onto my tablet from the library rather than flipping through the glossy magazine pages of a subscription. I don’t cut out my favorite photos and blurbs to hang in my home office anymore. Sometimes I try to take a DIY approach with zines and blogging, especially after the creative non-fiction course I took in college–by far my favorite–and all I’ve learned about literary journalism, a genre that allows me to be a little more flowery in a nonfiction environment. But I’m beginning to feel more and more each day as if I don’t have a satisfying outlet for it. I can write the pieces–and then what? They sit in files on my laptop collecting digital dust more often than not. I’ve spent the past couple of days tossing around the idea of starting some kind of website, but why? The kind of website I would create already exists in various forms; it’s redundant. But I still want to be that cool girl writing articles about the things she loves, the things you might love, too, and telling true stories on glossy pages.

Final summation: I don’t know what to do with myself, with everything I have percolating inside me, with all the dreams I never quite let go of still clawing at the inside of my skull.

July 31, 2016
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Until We Feel All Right

Posted in Personal, Writer Life by

06.27.2016 / working
I’ve been listening to an endless amount of Panic! at the Disco for, well, weeks, but it might be even more so the past few days after seeing them in concert on Tuesday night. It is a solid combination of genuine love for the band and my lady hormones going wild for Brendon Urie. (Yeah, I said it.) The whole concert experience made me feel fifteen again: giggly and excited and dreamy. Not that I had a great time as a teenager, but in its own way it was a good period; I was writing without fear and reckless in my nerdy own ways, and I enjoyed blogging so much more than I do now because there was no expectation. So continuing to listen to Panic! has helped keep me motivated again and inspired to work on my writing, along with rereading Stephen King’s On Writing for what I’m pretty sure is the third time so far. But now I’m second guessing myself and thinking maybe it’s the fourth time. I don’t know.

I am so enamored of both and want to surround myself with these two people’s work as much as I possibly can right now. If they were an article of clothing, they’d be a hoodie that I wear constantly until the elbows are just holes and the ends of the sleeves are threadbare. While my first answer to “Who’s your favorite?” will always be a combination of Bikini Kill, Green Day, and Sylvia Plath, Panic! at the Disco and Stephen King have also both been on my radar for so long that they can feel like a second skin for me at the times when I need them. (See also My Chemical Romance)

On Writing has also pulled me out of a reading slump more than anything else I’ve tried this month–although I have been enjoying Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future when I can focus–and it feels good to do something other than stare with glazed eyes at my TV, as much as I’ve loved binge watching my way through Glee the past few weeks. But I can’t do that forever. It won’t keep me happy. That’s why I’m glad that I’m pulling myself back into this wave of reading and writing. I’ve got three pieces started for my next zine and a story idea brewing in the back of my mind for my next bigger project. Besides that, I’ve been trying to keep up with working on prose poetry because I took off far too much time from that after finishing my chapbook.

A lot of my time is going to reprioritizing the projects I have going on and asking myself big questions about what I want to continue doing and what I want to move on from because why should I keep doing something that doesn’t make me happy or fulfilled anymore? That’s why I posted my last post, too. If I let myself be restricted to curated blog posts that fit the general blogging “rules,” then there’s zero fun in it and I stop posting, which would be fine if I didn’t end up missing it so damn much.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but I love and miss LiveJournal and the approach to blogging that space invited when I was in high school. God, I hate the way blogging has been bastardized from a personal platform to a business. It’s no fun. Sometimes I want to rant because that’s how I’m feeling and I don’t always want to have to have just the right picture to go with whatever I’m talking about because life doesn’t work like that in my experience.

I just want to do what makes me feel good and stop worrying so much about how other people react to it. I’m so glad that I wasn’t alone in my post from Wednesday, but I also don’t want to be expecting that every time. If what makes me feel good is listening to the same music as I did ten years ago and writing whatever the hell I want, then so be it. So the first steps: No more posting at the “right” time of day. No more creating things that don’t feel honest or worthwhile. Just experimenting and doing things my way until I can say it feels all right.

June 30, 2016
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Taking a Leap

Posted in Personal, Writer Life by

Chapbook in the springI’ve been feeling down lately, knowing I should work on a writing project (any writing project), but struggling to find the energy. I haven’t even been able to read much in the past week. All I’ve really been doing since Dan left for Boston is watching The Simpsons, which is fun, but if I go too long then I start to feel like dirt for not “accomplishing” anything.

I’m still not feeling up to my best, but I did manage to achieve one thing this week: I sent out a couple copies of my chapbook for review and distribution consideration. I’m hopeful, though not expectant, if that makes any sense. I was in desperate need of a way to feel productive this week, and this turned out to be the easiest way to do it, and it really is productive. I often don’t do enough, or much at all, to actually get my work out there aside from making it available on Etsy and my distro website, and maybe posting about it once or twice online. It’s no wonder I’ve only sold five copies of my chapbook since October, right? But for some reason it never occurred to me to do this, to actually send it out and say, “Hey, please read this.” I was always stuck on posting on tumblr and Facebook and twitter and Instagram and waiting, but I need to assume that the majority of accounts following me in all those places are fake or inactive or spam–because, to be honest, they probably are–and that’s why it makes more sense to ask someone else if they would read and share my work. (Basically, I need to remember a lot of what I learned from Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking, which I feel like I just read but am already dying to reread; it was a very good bubble bath book.)

I’ve only sent out two copies so far, placed in the mail just yesterday morning, but it’s a start, and I’m trying to give myself credit, something I don’t think I do enough. Oftentimes I’m much more likely to do something I deem productive, be proud for half an hour, then start telling myself, “Okay, time to do more.” It’s not the best habit to be in because I’m belittling so much of what I do. But to be honest, it’s hard not to when it feels like everyone around me is doing so much and doing it well. It’s a conscious effort to keep reminding myself that I did well with this step, but when I can remember it, I’m excited to see what (if anything) comes of it.

I’m still looking for more places to send my chapbook, and I also have a few distros in mind to which to submit my perzine, so I’m thinking those will be projects for next week. *thumbs up emoji*

May 13, 2016
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A Room of My Own: The Importance of a Work Space

Posted in Personal, Writer Life by

01.06.16 / desk
This month, when I haven’t been binge-watching The X-Files, I’ve been making an effort to clean up my office in the house and turn it into a space I can enjoy spending several hours a day working in. For months now, it’s just been a place where some of my things are stored and others are dumped. There were piles of papers strewn across the floor and books dropped anywhere but the bookcase. There was an old puzzle sitting on top of my turntable and owl-shaped wax melt pot waiting to be framed and hung in the hallway. I don’t even know how many egg cartons were piled up in a corner.

Suffice it to say, it was a damn mess.

So I cleaned. I didn’t just throw everything in drawers or cabinets, either, due in part to the fact that those were full as well. I went through those drawers and cabinets, too, cleaning them out and making more real space for storage and organization. So many things were either tossed or genuinely organized into neat little arrangements. I’m still not satisfied or finished, and I want to get whatever cute storage containers, racks, boxes, or carts I can find–big and small–to keep working on making the space perfect, but at least it’s something tolerable now.
01.06.16 / desk details
My favorite space in the room (after the sprawling bookcase, of course) is my desk. It’s full of little bits and bobs that feel very personal and inspirational: bookmarks, a map for the novel I’m working on, a Monster High doll from a friend, way more pens than I could count, and that beautiful Sylvia Plath watercolor from my friend Marlaina, along with the Plath prayer candle I got a few weeks ago, as well (though it’s not pictured).

The place is comfortable and clean now (save for maybe needing a good dusting), and it’s such a nice space for me to work in. A lot of my month has been “lost” to watching The X-Files before the new episodes arrive, but on the days I have been working, I’ve felt productive and creative, writing a new short story and set of poems, both of which I’m hoping to start submitting in the next few weeks.
01.06.16 / desk details
There’s not much I find more motivational than a clean work space. It can be good and fun to write in other places when I need to–relaxing on the couch, enjoying the scenery of the outdoors, finding inspiration at the library, etc.–but there’s nothing quite like my desk, in my room. It’s one place I can sit to work and, for the most part, stay focused, motivated, and inspired. It’s vital to my writing that I be engaged and excited about  it, and having a comfortable place to do it is such a benefit to my work. I can tell how much harder I’ve been working lately, producing more than I have in months and feeling proud of it.

Now the trick is to keep the room this way.

Where do you work your best?

January 20, 2016
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