Writing

All posts in the Writing category

On stars and herons.

Published October 16, 2019 by mandileighbean

shootingstar

I saw a shooting star and a beautiful, proud, elegant egret egret when I was walking the boardwalk this morning. Naturally, I wanted to know what those two sightings meant – you know me, always looking for signs. The first website I found was a blog with questionable credentials, but it said: “Shooting Stars symbolize Good Luck, A change or big event is coming towards your life, it can also be a symbol of endings. … They can also be a symbol of reaching one’s ultimate destiny” (source). I immediately thought of all the personal and professional upheaval from last year, and for the plans I’ve been making recently (the trip to Ireland, starting a new manuscript, and getting mentally and physically healthier). I wanted this to be true and somehow verifiable, so I hunted the internet for a more reliable source.

According to HowStuffWorks.org, “Shooting stars, also known as fallen stars, send streaks of light across the night sky before burning out into a point of inky blackness. Superstition has it that simply spotting one of these stars as it falls can bring good luck, though the rationale behind this custom changes based on who’s telling the story. Some cultures claim that fallen stars represent souls that have been released from purgatory, allowing them to finally begin the ascent to heaven and peace. In Britain and other areas, a shooting star represents the soul of a new baby falling to Earth, ready to begin a new life [source: Murrell]. Either way, the shooting star is said to possess a bit of magic, which means positive vibes and good luck for anyone who happens to gaze upon one.” This makes me happy because I could definitely use some good luck. I’m trying to get my work published, I’m trying to study in Ireland, and if I’m being really honest, I’m trying to fall in love. Hoping the falling star is really a precursor to good luck and prosperity, I kept reading. “Some shooting star superstitions can affect your life without any action on your part, but the type of luck you end up with could depend on something as random as where the star is positioned in the sky. If you spot a fallen star on your right, it means good luck, while one on your left indicates misfortune will follow. If you’re quick, you may be able to shift position as the star travels in an attempt to change your luck [source: Dillon]. Shooting stars also bring luck on the road. Spot one while on a trip, and your voyage is guaranteed to be a success [source: Goldsmith].” Luckily, the shooting star I saw this morning was in front of me, although it did fall to the left. But optimism is the new cynicism, eh? Let’s make being happy cool again. I’ll start by ignoring half of this explanation.

I kept reading (I’m a nerd; it’s what I do) and found some tidbits that could make for really interesting short stories. For example, “Counting the stars may be a good way to pass the time on a clear night, but superstitious folks should skip counting in favor of other pastimes. Counting the stars has always been considered a surefire way to bring on bad luck, and some legends state that if you attempt to count the stars in the sky, you’ll die when you reach 100 [source: Dillon]. Some believe that this superstition stems from ancient people who worshipped the sun, moon and stars, while others argue it’s a more recent custom [source: Roud]. Of course, with at least 200 billion stars in the galaxy, it’s likely that you’d die of natural causes well before you could get very far into your count, lending this superstition an air of credibility [source: NASA].” I don’t think I’ll take that risk; I’m bad at math anyway, and I like just looking up at the brilliantly lit heavens and thinking about how weird and wonderful it is just to be alive at all. But imagine if that actually happened, like if there was a stretch of shoreline where countless people had died because they’d stretched out on a blanket and tried to relax, tried to count stars. Imagine other people heard about the phenomenon but didn’t believe, only chalked it up to urban legend, so people started trying and testing it out and BAM! People keep dying. That might be a good start of something….

Another section had to do with “Love in the Stars,” and it said: “It’s well established that attempting to count the stars can be unlucky or even fatal, but one superstition holds that it’s OK to count under very specific circumstances. According to folklore, only an unmarried person looking for love can keep a tally. Even in this case, the unmarried person can count a maximum of seven stars on seven consecutive nights. If you do this, the first person of your preferred sex that you shake hands with on the eighth day is the one you’ll marry. For those struggling to find the one, it seems like a harmless way to not only locate love, but also a chance to finally count the stars without fear of inviting bad luck into your life [source: Radford and Radford]” (source).

To add to the good omen of seeing a shooting star, I was P U M P E D to find out that egrets (more commonly known as white herons, apparently) are also signs of good things to come. According to a YouTube video (which I know is not the most reliable of sources), “This great bird, talked of throughout ancient history and many cultures, is also commonly known as the Great White Heron. … A double headed Heron in Egypt is symbolic of prosperity. As a Chinese symbol the Heron represents strength, purity, patience and long life.” I found this information to be reassuring. Even though I am not Egyptian or Chinese, I have been working at becoming stronger and relying less and less on validation from others. I have been working at becoming purer and removing people and activities from my life that make me or keep me toxic. I’ve always been patient even though it mostly drives me insane. It took me two years to find a full-time teaching job after graduating from college. It took me two years to publish my novel after completing the manuscript. It took me two years to close on my home. It seems like two years is my typical wait time for things, but I’m not keen on wasting any more time in finding love. Though the heron also symbolizes a long life, I don’t want to wait forever to be loved. I think being hyper-focused on fostering a romantic relationship has hurt my writing in the sense that I am constantly distracted and prioritize being with potential partners over writing alone in my room.

So the key, as always, is balance. How do I balance being a productive writer with being fully connected to other human beings? There is some isolation required in being a writer, and I’ve read countless interviews with authors of varying degrees of success and fame who acknowledge that the writing life is a lonely one (though just how lonely depends on extenuating circumstances, I guess). But as the year 2020 nears, I’m going to work on loving and trusting myself, and going just a little bit fucking Gatsby.

optimism-810x502

On routines.

Published October 11, 2019 by mandileighbean

oceangate-beach-prisms-2016-2

So I’ll be completely honest – despite all the declarations I made in my last post, I am still having a hard time with prioritizing writer … which explains why this week, I’m not updating until Friday (which I have no cutesy, alliterative title for). But every day is a new day, no?

And I have been *thinking* about writing. I have a couple of ideas for a couple of new projects kicking around and with the help of a particularly awesome beta reader, I’m sure I can make them all realities. And I do some of my best thinking while walking in the mornings. Every morning, I wake up between four o’clock and four-thirty and I immediately make my bed. I’ve read time and time again that developing both a morning and evening routine helps with anxiety, and that incorporating the making of your bed is essential. I wrestle with the sheets and tug the comforter until it’s even, and then I head downstairs and change into workout clothes. I make sure my wireless headphones are charged, turn on Amazon Music and Map My Run, and take off for just over two and a half miles. I walk the boardwalk just a couple of blocks from my home. My pace suffers when I brave the shadowy, far ends of the boardwalk, but my brain never slows. I feel enchanted by the moon glittering on the water when it’s full and hanging low in the sky. Sometimes, an egret will be poised with magnificent dignity in the water but more often than not, I’m praying to avoid the skunks which seem to overrun my sleepy, seaside town at particular times throughout the year. When I get back home, I shower and eat breakfast before doing my hair and makeup. I grab my lunch from the fridge and fill my thermos with coffee, and then I’m out the door and on my way to work.

I’ve tried to get to work early enough where I can write, but as of late, I’ve been having trouble meeting that go. I’ve been lazy and slow-moving in the mornings. It’s a goal to incorporate writing into my morning routine since reading is a crucial part of my evening routine.

What about you, dear readers? Are you night owls or early worms? Let me know! Do you have any tips for a solid morning or evening routine? Feel free to share in the comments!

morningroutine

On remembering your why.

Published October 2, 2019 by mandileighbean

womanwriter

Anyone who’s been reading this blog for any length of time will know that I am
A L W A Y S open to signs from the universe. I mean, who doesn’t want validation and reassurance that she is on the right path and making the best decisions, no matter how mystical that validation may be?

I was worried about starting the school year. I knew my professional life would be challenging, but I also knew my personal life was in upheaval. I wondered if I would be lonely, if the feeling of being an outcast would follow me into the school year. Luckily (or as a sign from the universe – you decide), my colleague took it upon herself to start an initiative in the building where groups of teachers engage in fun activities together to improve school climate and to improve building morale. It’s been a success so far and I know that I feel more connected and more supported. I asked for a safety net and the universe delivered from the unlikeliest of places. If you knew this colleague a year ago, and I told you she would be the one to bring the building more together, you would have laughed in my face. It makes me so happy and proud to see her growing and neglecting the negativity so she can focus on what she wants. Thus, it seemed fitting when my group intention was “Remember Your Why.”

I’ve been struggling to “Remember My Why” for writing. I miss the writer I used to be, scribbling every second I could steal, and tirelessly inventing and transcribing scenes. But lately, my writing life has been nonexistent. I’m tired after work, but that’s no excuse. I know I need to make time for what I am most passionate about, for what I love. At home, I sit at my desk, but the words won’t come. I’m just focused on feeling tired and uninspired, which is especially frustrating since not too long ago, I was in Manhattan surrounded by brilliant Irish writers and feeling rejuvenated. I’m desperate to get back to that place, to get back to who I was in so many different facets, and I believe remembering my why is an essential part of that journey.

Earlier today, I grabbed my notebook from that conference I mentioned, and I flipped through the pages. I remembered that Professor Sarah Moore Fitzgerald had kicked off the weekend with an absolutely wonderful lecture about writing in general and the writer’s life. Part of that dealt with writer’s block, and Professor Fitzgerald emphasized that the demon of self-doubt MUST be banished! She freely admitted that process is cyclical because the demon always returns, but to remember that self-doubt is mundane and that doubts are the least interesting things about anyone because e v e r y o n e has doubts. She encouraged all of us to remind ourselves of our reasons, to be reflective, and to figure out our W H Y. So I’ve been asking myself, what’s my why? Why have I written in the past? Why do I want to keep writing?

And if the self-motivation is lacking, Professor Fitzgerald also encouraged us to find inspiration by constantly reading anything and everything – canonical literature, all sorts of poetry, all sorts of stories. Doing so is a beginning to connecting with the creative self, which is a long, contextualized, complicated, and complex process. It’s important to
S W I T C H  O F F, which I KNOW I need to start doing more of. She told us what none of us really want to hear, that there is NO SUCH THING AS MULTI-TASKING. To that end, I’m planning on starting a pretty serious garden, and I’ve researched more ways to practically embrace a more Bohemian lifestyle in this demanding, technological, modern age.

I’ve been bitter about some recent success of some writer friends of mine, and that’s so messed up. I need to remember Professor Fitzgerald’s words, that writing is collaborative and NOT competitive. It’s important that all writers share with and support one another. There’s room for everyone because I am the O N L Y person who has seen the world the way I see it. I need to tell my stories, whatever they may be, and bask in the “beauty of exuberant imperfection”!

She told us that perfect happiness is when what you’re doing and what you’re thinking about are the same thing.

Professor Fitzgerald knew what she was talking about on SO many levels. She was participating in a research project about why writers write, and she shared that ultimately, there are seven reasons why writers write:

  1. ESSENTIALITY (it’s a need, part of their identity)
  2. WORK (they’re disciplined, committed to a routine)
  3. MAGIC (writing is a kind of enchantment, gives life to dreams)
  4. LIGHT (writing brings comfort, joy, love, safety and sanity)
  5. DARKNESS (writing can safely explore madness, pain, trouble, and struggle)
  6. COMMUNICATION (writing makes sense of the world)
  7. PLAY (writing allows writers to experiment and takes risks)

As I sit here, writing this blog post, I realize I need to discover my why, my reason for writing. Then, and only then, can I really grow and feel better. I need to remember why writing is a large part of my identity.

And then, I need to get started on writing.

ca. 1900 --- Woman Reclining at Desk Next to Typewriter --- Image by © CORBIS

On passive and active voice, and a problem I didn’t know I had.

Published September 25, 2019 by mandileighbean

active-vs-passive-voice

Finally! A timely blog post for Writer Wednesdays! I know this isn’t impressive since I skipped posting last week, but last week was my 31st birthday, and I think that’s a good reason to alter a schedule.

I was successful in my search for beta readers, and I am pleased to announce I’ve already received useful feedback! What’s interesting is that both a beta reader AND a potential publisher mentioned I use the passive voice too much. At first, I was shocked. How did that happen? When did that start happening? Is it because I’ve been reading a lot of European fiction? What’s going on? So I decided to do some research.

According to a potential publisher (who rejected my manuscript because it was written in “7.6%” passive voice), American audiences have been more inclined to purchase books in active as opposed to passive voice. The publisher in question didn’t attach an article or a summary about where exactly the numbers came from, nor did the publisher explain its computations for arriving at the figure 7.6%. But that’s my pride whimpering because one of my beta readers mentioned that the passive voice I used at the beginning of a short story made it confusing. The good news is that the publisher said it would consider the manuscript if I rewrote it in more of an active voice. Deciding my next move, and facilitating my next stage of evolution as a writer, led me to investigate the debate (not that there necessarily is one … but I digress) between passive and active voice.

In active voice, the sentence of the subject performs the action. According to Purdue OWL’s Writing lab, “Using active voice for the majority of your sentences makes your meaning clear for readers, and keeps the sentences from becoming too complicated or wordy” (read more here). In such sentences, “The action is performed upon the sentence subject, meaning this sentence is passive (indirect)”. So sentences written in passive voice are less clear and less concise than those written in active voice because they need more words to express the action. Purdue OWL elaborates on this problem with passive voice:

Sometimes the use of passive voice can create awkward sentences…. Also, overuse of passive voice throughout an essay can cause your prose to seem flat and uninteresting.

And I feel like that is a major problem with my prose! I was re-reading (and revising and editing) my new project, and I was thoroughly unimpressed by my opening. It was coldand impersonal to a fault. Oh no! I have lost my writer’s voice!

Then again, choosing passive voice is sometimes an option. “While active voice helps to create clear and direct sentences, sometimes writers find using an indirect expression is rhetorically effective in a given situation, so they choose passive voice.” But this should only happen in certain writing situations. “The passive voice makes sense when the agent is relatively unimportant compared to the action itself and what is acted upon.” Passive voice is okay when emphasizing action, but after doing my bit of research, it seems like it’s more trouble than its worth to use passive voice.

1. Avoid starting a sentence in active voice and then shifting to passive.

Unnecessary shift in voice:
Many customers in the restaurant found the coffee too bitter to drink, but it was still ordered frequently.
Revised:
Many customers in the restaurant found the coffee too bitter to drink, but they still ordered it frequently.
Unnecessary shift in voice:
He tried to act cool when he slipped in the puddle, but he was still laughed at by the other students.
Revised:
He tried to act cool when he slipped in the puddle, but the other students still laughed at him.

2. Avoid dangling modifiers caused by the use of passive voice. A dangling modifier is a word or phrase that modifies a word not clearly stated in the sentence.

Dangling modifier with passive voice:
To save time, the paper was written on a computer. (Who was saving time? The paper?)
Revised:
To save time, Kristin wrote the paper on a computer.
Dangling modifier with passive voice:
Seeking to lay off workers without taking the blame, consultants were hired to break the bad news. (Who was seeking to lay off workers? The consultants?)
Revised:
Seeking to lay off workers without taking the blame, the CEO hired consultants to break the bad news.

3. Don’t trust the grammar-checking programs in word-processing software. Many grammar checkers flag all passive constructions, but you may want to keep some that are flagged. Trust your judgment, or ask another human being for their opinion about which sentence sounds best.

So the question now becomes: how do I fix my problem with passive voice? I realize that using it makes my sentences longer, makes my voice cold and impersonal, and makes my meaning unclear. I think this problem with passive voice started with my second manuscript because I wanted to talk about things that happened before the story technically started, so I wanted to use some kind of past past tense. I got into a bad habit of using passive voice to play with tense, but now it’s time to break the habit.

What writing rules/concepts do you still struggle with? Comment below and let me know, and I can feature a mini-clinic on this blog!

 

On the difference between critics and beta readers.

Published September 12, 2019 by mandileighbean

I know I announced last week that my blog would be updated every Wednesday, but in light of what yesterday was – the eighteenth anniversary of September 11th, 2001 – it seemed in really poor taste to try and peddle my poetry and blog post when minds and hearts should really be focused on the anniversary of the day that changed everything. I’m humbled and completely knocked off my axis when I think about the enormity of that day, from the tragedy to the heroics to its function as a clear and distinct demarcation between a world that was and a world that is.

9.11

So this week, I update on Thursday.

And this week, I’ve been thinking a lot about critics. I was fortunate to see “IT Chapter 2” the night it premiered with Dad and I LOVED the film (and this marks the second time a trip to the movies to see a film based on a work by Stephen King has brought Dad and I closer). It was brutal in its violence and in its tragedy, but it was also beautiful and refreshing in the way it honored the essence of King’s original story. That novel has always held a special place in my heart. Forgive me if I’ve shared this experience before, but I can vividly remember where I was when I read the last page of the novel: I was in my parents’ old van on my way to my twin sister’s softball game at our high school. It was uncomfortably crisp outside, so Mom and my little brother and me were all waiting in the van until my twin sister got up to bat. I was stretched out along the backseat and I was sobbing. I was crying hard enough to cause my mom to turn around and try and comfort me in her unique, no-nonsense way. She said to me, “Mandi, you know those aren’t real people.”

And I laughed, but what I really wanted to do was launch into an impassioned, breathless declaration about the heartbreaking genius of it. I wanted to tell her that it was all real and true in the sense that to be brave, loving, and selfless adults, people need to stay the faithful, simple, and vulnerable children they started out as. And that life is all about connecting deeply with others and staying true to those connections no matter the peril. And I wanted to tell her I was so moved because I belonged to no such club, not even one for Losers. I felt no cosmic kinship with anyone and were I to face a demonic, child-eating clown in a damp and filthy sewer, I’d have no one to call. I realize now that last bit is not entirely true – and never was – but it felt true at fifteen.

So when I read reviews by people who had seen the film and criticized it for not being scary or for being too long, it annoyed me because I wanted to assume they just “didn’t get it,” like I could degrade them into people less intelligent and less empathetic and less open-minded than me. I felt the same way after I saw “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.” I was almost offended that people in the theater weren’t as enthralled as I was, that they weren’t blown away by the gorgeous cinematography and the originality in creating a modern fairy tale.

ItChapterTwo 190726-leon-once-upon-a-time-tease_ol8p3t

I had to stop myself. I had to remind myself that art is for everyone, first and foremost, and that everyone is entitled to their opinion. And my enjoyment of a film (or album or novel or whatever) should not be diminished or lessened by someone else’s displeasure. I was turning into the very thing I hated: a critic. Sometimes it seems to me that critics purposely dislike what is popular just to preserve an elitist status and perpetuate the notion that critics knows something the rest of us don’t. And maybe that elitism works both ways, in the sense that those that rally against critics (myself included) do so in defense of the “general” viewer (or listener or reader or whatever). Separating the “casual” imbiber of art from the learned intellectual critic serves both sides because with sides, someone can always be right and someone can always be wrong.

But that’s not the purpose of art or entertainment, is it?

Do what you like with critics, but that doesn’t mean a writer shouldn’t get opinions about her work. Writers should have a couple of trusted, honest beta readers (like critics in a milder, more individualized form) that can help them hone their craft. I have two, but am looking for a third. I am looking for a passionate reader to read my works-in-progress and share their opinion on the work.

Anyone interested? Comment here.

Until next time, friends ❤

beta

On weather and productivity.

Published August 29, 2019 by mandileighbean

rain-walk

I went walking in the rain today. It wasn’t my intention; I thought the fine mist that had been falling since earlier in the morning was tapering off and that it would stop altogether as I walked from one end of the boardwalk to the other, which is about two miles. I was happy about the weather. Less people would be traversing the slippery wooden boards, so I could walk at my own pace and not worry about slowing down or speeding up to overtake another walker or to maintain a comfortable distance. But I swear, as soon as I left my house, as soon as I bounded down the steps of my front porch, it started raining harder. I tucked my iPod in my pants to keep it dry, and that sort of worked. By the time I was done, rainwater was dripping from my face and my elbows. I was soaked through.

But I wasn’t upset about it. On the contrary, I felt beautiful and invincible. It was just a little bit of rain, but it felt like I had conquered something. There were kids riding bikes with helmets over the hoods of their jackets, and I passed three other people walking but I think they were hippies in the truest sense of the word because the one guy didn’t even have shoes. But I was outside in the weather and I was up and moving. I didn’t cry alone in my bedroom; I didn’t let the depression win. I thought about crying, letting my tears be camouflaged by the rain, but if I had cried, it would have been because I felt free. I was being productive and I didn’t have to be trapped by a n y t h i n g; not by the way I felt or looked or anything at all.

So what does this mean for my writing? Well, I was productive; I wrote a little tawdry scene that likely won’t become anything but it was good practice in writing dialogue, I think. And I finished my entry for Owl Canyon Press’s Hackathon Contest (interested in entering yourself? You can find everything you need here). My beta reader is going to read it over and give me a brutally honest opinion. Fingers crossed, folks. Oh, and the beta reader is also reading through what I hope is my final revision of Moody Blue. If no agent or publisher bites, then no big deal. It’ll be on to bigger and better projects. I have plenty of ideas.

getty_1035462384_395932

As for Ireland … I’ve requested my official transcripts from my alma mater. Then I need two letters of recommendation and I’ll have to send in 3,000 words of original writing. That’ll be due in November.

I sketched something for the first time ever yesterday. My friend’s going to walk me through painting it and I’m just super proud of my level of creativity lately.

And I clicked on an Instagram ad about this band called “Wallows,” and it didn’t disappoint. They have a video for an incredibly catchy single called “Scrawny,” which you can watch here. I think it popped up on my feed because I’ve been posting a lot about “13 Reasons Why” (new season is awful) and the actor who plays Clay Jensen (real name: Dylan Minette) is the lead singer. You can watch the video here, but I’m warning you … it’s real catchy.

Sorry for the sporadic nature of this post, but things are good, and I feel like rambling about everything I’m excited and passionate about.

On going back and forth.

Published August 7, 2019 by mandileighbean

I feel like this summer has mostly been a disappointment. This is mostly my own fault for being lazy and creating grandiose expectations to which no mortal, or season, could live up to. Then again, I reason I shouldn’t be so hard on myself because “summertime sadness” is more than just a popular song. It’s a real thing and I’ve decided the best way to combat it is to be productive and to always keep moving forward.

I wish someone would tell my subconscious. I keep having dreams that are mostly ominous.

For example, the night before last, I had a dream (that I can only piece together in vague shades as it rapidly faded in the ways that dreams do) where I was being chased throughout my childhood home and into its backyard by a tyrannical T-Rex who roared and roared out orders. My family and friends were warning me not to run, feared I would make things worse, but eventually everyone started running with me. And apparently, dreaming of dinosaurs indicates that it’s time for the dreamer to put things behind her and she symbolizes she is stuck in a situation holding her back. Well, that makes perfect sense to me; this is the first summer in six that I haven’t been rushing to my cell phone, hoping and praying for a text message, that I haven’t invented reasons to reach out, only to end up disappointed and ashamed. It’s hard to move on from someone who embodied all your future happiness (or so you thought) but it’s good when that someone is only narcissistic and manipulative.

But then my dream shifted and I was in the room I was sleeping in and unable to turn the lights on. They would flicker dimly and turn off no matter how many times I flicked the switch. To dream of lights that do not work as they should could represent a lack of insight, and could also mean the dreamer is unable to feel that safety is under her control. I don’t feel I’m in any kind of danger, but I most certainly understand the lack of insight; I never know what the hell I’m doing. And studying in Ireland is something I want to do and am afraid to do. It’s much easier to stay exactly where I am, after all.

But then my dream shifted again; I was driving over low bridges over water in Florida while I was panicking because I was late for work in New Jersey. This apparently symbolizes that an important decision must be made because the dreamer is at a critical junction in her life and might have to defend herself against others in her decision to grab an opportunity. Well, holy shit; Ireland it is.

But when I went to the high school where I teach to help with a fundraiser for the Executive Board of the Student Government Association, which I co-advise, I brought up the idea of taking a sabbatical to study in Ireland to my principal, whom I love and admire. And he told me no. He said I was too valuable, which is nice to hear, but he wouldn’t even entertain the conversation. I don’t think he’d actually deny me and I’m flattered by his sentiment, but I want to go. I want to study in Limerick for a year.

Later that night, I had a dream I witnessed a horrible, horrifying car accident, which is a very bad omen. But today, I received an email from Professor Joseph O’Connor from the University of Limerick. He sent me information about the Creative Writing program. I’d have to apply, offer up 3,000 words of original work to be judged. That’s terrifying; what if they say no? What if I’m not good enough? I’m sure I’d be accepted for continuing studying literature, but to be told no is still daunting.

I’m printing out a lame picture from the internet that looks like this:what-if-i-fall-oh-but-my-darling-what-if-44300870

Guess it’s time for me to soar. I’m going to request a phone appointment with the woman from the University of Limerick in charge of international students.

%d bloggers like this: