Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Graduate School’

Cats and Frogs


I Feel So Stupid Right Now

I have finished another night of class and I feel as if I have hit an emotional wall. Right now, I am asking myself why I bother to get this degree. Everything I like, the professor pointed out as a problem. Parts that I saw as a problem were highlighted as effective. Do I read my classmates work with another brain? Am I so underdeveloped as a writer that I am starting to see bad as good and vice versa?  Somedays (days like today) I just want to quit. No one is forcing me to get this degree. No one forced me to apply to this program. And yet, I take a step back as think, Well, if you knew all this stuff you wouldn’t need to pay all this money.

I want to blame this disconnect on my genre style writing. I am not a literary writer, although I like to think that I straddle the line between genre and literary. Even so, most literary journals, editor, and readers will look at my writing and firmly declare me a fantasy writer. I can wear that label. It suits me and my bookshelves are filled with science fiction/fantasy. I am what I read.

Being a genre writer in a traditional program makes me have a crisis moment at least once a semester. I feel it more tonight, because said crisis had happened several times in previous classes this semester. My process was wrong. My words were shallow repeats of my classmates. Over and over, I feel myself not seeing what everyone else sees. It makes me close my mouth and not open it again, convinced that my words are so empty, how could I ever think they would matter?

I know on some rational level this is not true. When we read a work, we bring our own personal thoughts and experiences. How can your opinion be wrong?

And I still leave class feeling like crap…

I think my real fear stems from not seeing what others see. It is like everyone stares at a cloud and sees a frog. But I don’t see a frog! I see a cat. Damn, where is the frog??? It is insecurity that only I feel and not necessarily present. I don’t know if I will ever get over it. My writer’s neurosis may always be there. The pressure to conform, whether real or imagined, will always be on me in this program, because I don’t see frogs. I see cats.

Sometimes I wish I could be like everyone else. To write a close character study story with an intimate setting and snappy dialogue would be so normal. A story where nothing “weird” happens and plot is not a driving force would fly out of my head and onto the page.

Once in a while, I do write the straight forward literary story, but those moments are rare. My stories (and my voice as a writer) are strange, beautifully strange to me, and haunt me. I write the work that I just can’t get out of my head. And those stories are not going to be found in the literary section.

In fairness my classmates and professors have always been respectful of my work. I’ve never been offended by anything anyone has ever said or written. I am lucky. I had heard horror stories about genre writers being torn apart by literary people. The idea that genre writers somehow don’t work as hard as a literary writer does permeate some programs. I did have a moment about 10 years ago in a community writing session when one woman suggest that I “get rid of all the supernatural stuff and write a real story.” Ouch! Lucky for me there was another reader in that group who told me to ignore her.

*12 Hours Later*

I ran out of steam earlier. Last night I felt so drained and I just wanted to get the thoughts out before they faded. My feelings haven’t changed. I’m still feeling stupid and lost, but I also recognize that this may never change. I enrolled in this program to learn and grow as a writer. If I can’t be challenged, why am I here? To carry on my metaphor, I need to see cats and frogs.

And I realize that this won’t happen overnight.

So I’m going to be frustrated and lost during my pursuit of a master’s degree. I could quit, but what good would that do me? How will that make me better as a writer? Instead of quitting, I need to dig in and do the work. I need to develop bifocals to see both as a literary writer and a genre writer. I have a feeling I’m going to be messing up a lot. I’m exhausted and overwhelmed at times. I still have over a year of classes to take and plenty of assignments and discussions. I do feel like I am growing as a writer. It is just that growing pains hurt!

Hopefully, at the end of this, I will be a better writer. That is my goal after all. I can’t be passive about it. I have to actively work on pushing my old habits aside and trying to learn new ones. I can’t be afraid of the different.

Wish me luck!

The Bradbury Effect

In my last post, I wrote how much I wished I could be as productive as Ray Bradbury.  For some reason, I just didn’t think that I could work like that, churning out a story every week. This past May proved me wrong.

I decided I would try and so far I have finished a piece every week.  I start on Monday and by Sunday, I try and finish something, whether it is a short story, flash fiction, blog post, or the end of a longer piece.  The sense of accomplishment feels very good.  I feel productive.  It spurs me on to get to the next story.  I still have a ton to rewrite and a million other writing ideas to get down into cohesive stories, but for now I am happy to be stacking up the work.  After all, the more you write the better you get.  Not all of these stories are going to be good, but some of them have the potential to be good.  I’m a believer of this idea now.

Good thing too, because I signed up for a summer session at JHU.  Spring classes ended around the first week of May and
now, four short weeks later, I am gearing up for another workshop class.  That means, more writing and critiquing
are in my future.  Last semester was a good group of writers.  I learned a lot about myself (my confusing pronoun usage, my tendency for groups of three, needing deeper character development, etc.).  I’m sure this next class will help me along too.

In other news, I got into a car accident last week.  The insult was that it happened five minutes from my house! Thank God no one was hurt.  The accident was very minor and the only thing damaged were the cars.  For the past few days, while my car is being repaired I’ve been driving a rental.  A 2013 Altima.  It has a push start, something I have never driven.  It’s not my style of car, but I’m marveling at all the bells and whistles.  There is even a feature on the dash that tells you what song you are listening to on the radio.  Modern technology!  I’m used to my older car where you have to work for everything. LOL!

I also came across another gem of a book.  A signed copy of The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.  The best part?  I bought it from the thrift store when they had a 50% Memorial Day sale.  I love the spring/summer season.  People give away the best stuff now.  Along with the Franzen book, I got a copy of If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino and Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace.  I’ll get to them soon, but right now I’m reading Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.  Interesting so far.  It’s one of those Big books many people read, and since I never read it, I thought I should join the club.

And yes, I did get around to reading 50 Shades of Grey.

All I will say about that book, is that I didn’t like it, don’t understand the people who do, and will go back to reading Harold Robbins the next time I feel the urge to read something trashy.  Now that man could tell a story and write some great sex scenes!

I did like Karen Russell, though.  Her stories were inventive, sometimes fun, sometimes heartbreaking, original, and ambitious.  I have Swamplandia! on my “to be read shelf” too.

There are so many great stories to be read.  So many yet to be written (hopefully one or two by yours truly).  I haven’t forgotten my New Year’s resolution.  You know the one where I wanted to be published.  So along with writing, I’ve got to start submitting again.

I just have to start one story at a time.

April 19, 2013

It’s been a busy 6 weeks or so.  I’ve got to catch you up.

First, I don’t have a new fiction piece for this month.  Last month I started writing a new short story, which has now become a monster story.  It is bordering on novella length, something that completely surprised me, so all of my effort has been focused on writing and finishing this story.  The piece that I planned to post I presented to my grad class back in Feb.  I got wonderful feedback and now need to rewrite it before I post.  I only have a few more weeks left of the semester, so the rewrite will happen soon! First order of business is finish the novella (or novelette, not sure yet), then rewrite.

Then, I’ll start on the thousand other stories that are patiently waiting in my head.  Sometimes I wish I was more like Ray Bradbury.  The man wrote an new story almost every week…

I was once asked where I get my ideas.  Lot’s of people always think about writing, but when they go to sit down and write, their minds go blank.  My advice, if this happens to you, is to do one of three things:

1) Use a writing prompt.  If you Google this, you will get plenty of ideas for a story to write.  I heard a good one last week.  It read, “There once was a __________, who ___________.”  There, now you have your first line! Don’t worry about whether it is good or not.  That’s what rewriting is for!  Just get the story down.

2) Write a story like someone else’s story.  This is only an exercise.  If you like Lord of the Rings, try writing something like that.  Don’t try and publish it.  Technically, you are committing plagerism, but if you just keep it for yourself and don’t try and publish it, why not?  It will get your creative mind working.  Then you will be surprised how the ideas will flow.  Soon you will have your own unique story and you will dive right in.

and finally 3) Write somethig from your real life.  We all went to school (or maybe you were home schooled), have family (or not), or go to a day job.  You may think your life is dull, dull, dull.  So what are the strange funny moments that make your life unique.  Maybe you live somewhere odd.  Maybe you know someone interesting.  If nothing interesting is happening, write about that.  In college, I once wrote a page and a half about how I had nothing to say.  LOL!  I kid you not…

Open yourself up and don’t be afraid.  It’s just you and the page.  No one else is there.  If you really hate it, to the recycle bin it goes!  Then start on something new.  One great thing I have learned since being in grad school is to open yourself up to everything.  Read everything and try writing it.  That’s why I’m posting a lot of the books I read.  You can see I read a lot of different people.

Here’s what I have read since my last post:

1)Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
2)A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
3)Cover Her Face by PD James
4)”Hell is the Absence of God” by Ted Chaing (short story)
5)”Smooth Operator” by Darnell Cansilla (short story)
6)”Bright Morning” by Jeffrey Ford (short story)
7)”Lull” by Kelly Link (short story)
8)”You Have Never Been Here” by M. Rickert (short story)
9)”Answering the Call” by Brian Freedman (short story)

Some of the short stories were out of this anthology.  I read it a few years ago, when it first came out.  The stories are so good, I find myself revisiting them every now and then.

Currently I am reading Karen Russell’s St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.  A friend lent it to me, before I decided to buy her other collection Vampires in the Lemon Grove.  After that, I will start on 50 Shades of Grey.  Yes, you read that right.  I want to know what all the fuss is about!

Happy writing, and I will post again soon after the semester ends.

P.S. — I got my book mojo back.  I found Harry Potter #2, first printing, first edition on the shelf at the thrift store last week!

Writing and Reading — February 2013

Even snow days look pretty at my new place!

Snow Day!

Snow Day!

It has been a little over a month since I moved in to my new place. I still need a few more bookshelves, a chest of drawers, and some nightstands, but all in all, I am moved in. The biggest change has been how much more productive I have been. It may not seem like it, but I have actually done a lot more writing.

Which is good, because my class this semester is a fiction workshop class. Over the course of the class, I have to turn in three pieces. All of them cannot be things I have used in workshop previously. So I went through my stuff and found one finished piece that I haven’t looked at in a few years. I have one that is about 1/3 finished. Finally, I have a new piece that I just started, but is so interesting, I’ll be done writing it in a week or so. I’ll save that one for the end of the semester.

Almost as exciting is the news that I have been steadily working on my novel. After years of believing I had no more novels in me, last year I found myself wanting to start a new one. I tried the NANOMO. But we all know how that ended… Still I’ve been plugging away and now have a few thousand words.

It’s amazing what a little piece and quiet will do for your writing soul.

I do have one more work that I am almost finished, but I don’t want to talk about that too much. It is not for class. It was just something fun I decided to do, with a very personal motive. Once it is done, I’ll make an announcement.

I didn’t talk about this last year, but I did have a reading list. After sorting through all my books, I realized that there were a few I never got around to reading. Kate Vaiden was one of them, but there were quite a few more that I read and crossed off the list. Let me give you a rundown of those I can remember:


  • The Windup Girl – by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • His Dark Materials Trilogy – Philip Pullman
  • Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes
  • Origin Stories – Kelly Link


And of course there were the five I read for class:

  • A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan
  • Charming Billy – Alice McDermott
  • Isaac’s Storm – Erik Larson
  • Unbroken – Laura Hillenbrand
  • Kate Vaiden – Reynolds Price

Of those, my favorite was Flowers for Algernon. I thought that was a wonderful, unique story. For those who don’t know, it is the story of a man with a very low IQ, who volunteers for an experimental surgery to make himself smarter. The story is told through his diary entries and charts both his joy and sorrow in his new life. It was a great read and I recommend it.

Infinite Jest is still sitting in the to be read pile. I packed it early and just didn’t pick it up over the break. Now? I just started reading Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. She is one of my favorite writers, but I never got around to reading this series. I’m only thirty pages it, but I’m having a hard time putting it down.

But I must. I have writing to do.

Anyone else found a new favorite book last year? Let me know!

The Enchanted Garden and Other News

Is it December already?

It seems as if this year has been going so fast.  Now we’re at the end of it.  2013 is quickly approaching, so we will see what comes next.

I didn’t finish my book for NaNoWriMo.  I was doing well, but a few things came up and time just got away from me.  Mostly, it was class.  Grad school requires so much reading.  Every other week, we were discussing a new book.  I had my presentation on Kate Vaiden on Dec. 6, so I decided that was the most important priority.  I wanted to really read and study the book, not just rush through it.  I am sorry I didn’t finish (my novel), but I think I will have some time this month.

I also made a big decision last month to move.  I found a beautiful apartment building and tried in vain for two weeks to get in to see a unit.  Wouldn’t you know, the leasing office called in early November.  So between reading, work, and writing the book, I had to carve out time to see apartments (They had more than one unit available.) and fill out all the paperwork that comes with it.  It has been a while since I rented an apartment, apparently now they want everything but a blood sample.

I know I said earlier that I wasn’t ready to move.  Money has been a big concern for me this year, and I thought I would be staying at my parent’s place longer.  For the past four years I have been living at my parent’s house because my mom got a contract job out of the area.  With 2008 home prices like they were, she didn’t want to sell.  I offered to stay, take care of the place, and pay her.  It worked out well.  But now they are back… and this house is suddenly very small.

Truthfully, I miss my privacy.  I love my parents, but I miss having my own space.  I thought I could suck it up for a year and then start looking, but I only made it six months. (LOL)  I decided that even though my salary is lower, I should still look for a place.  Better if I find a place now that I can afford.  I found a great place in Silver Spring, MD called National Park Seminary (Henceforth to be known as the Enchanted Garden, because it is so pretty!).  It used to be a women’s seminary, but was renovated a few years ago to a mix of townhouses, condos, and apartments.  It’s a historical landmark, in a quiet area, and so friggin’ unique, I can’t wait to move in.  It is not in the most trendy of areas like Bethesda, Dupont Circle, or Capitol Hill.  I don’t need a neighborhood like that.  I need space to write.

And a place to hold my books.  I got lots of those…

So if you want to see a picture, here is the nonprofit organization that takes care of care of the historical aspects of the grounds.  If you live in the DC area, you should come on the tour.  I’ve taken it and it is really cool.

I’m about to take a massive break from work.  Between the 13th of December and 2nd of January, I will be off from work.  So once I move in, and get settled, I’m going to have plenty of space and quiet to work.  Hopefully I will get farther along in my novel.

Also, I want to spruce up the blog a bit too.  There will be some new stuff coming soon.  Gradually over the month, I would like to add more, like a better bio and some of my fiction (and pictures!).  So much to do!

Hope everyone enjoys the coming weeks!

Reasons to Write

This is just a quick note.  November is flying by.  I have started my novel for National Novel Writing Month, but I am seriously far behind.  I’m just happy I started, but this weekend will be a serious work push.  Not only am I writing this novel, but I have a few  short pieces to write and a book to read for class too.  We are reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (the author of Seabiscuit).  I need to write up an analysis for it as soon as I finish.

Class is going well, but I feel a bit overwhelmed.  Yesterday we spent a lot of time talking about why someone chooses to write.  Why write when you could do something else creative like paint, or music?  Why is someone a writer instead of an actor?  Every answer I had just seems too superficial.  It may not be a question that I will ever answer.  I may spend the rest of my life asking myself this.  Can you imagine that? Some in the class said that they didn’t want to go too deeply into their answer.  I get that.  Over analyzation of oneself can sometimes crush creativity.  You don’t have to look a every single motive all the time.  Human being are irrational and do things that make no sense all the time.

But it bugs me that I never really thought about why I write. I don’t always enjoy it.  I don’t always have a burning passion for it.  But it is the one thing that I have stuck with my whole life.  I read a great column a few days ago, and basically the writer said that you shouldn’t do what you love.  You should love the work you have chosen.  I think that is a big part of why I write.  I am in love with writing.  Why else would I do it?  No money.  No fame.  It’s hard on realationships. People will think you are nuts for choosing something with (seemingly) little reward. It’s damn hard work and can drive you crazy…

*Sigh* I am in love.  There is no other explanation.

I will probably write more about this later.  For class, I have to write a vision statement about myself as a writer.  It is supposed to be something I revise for the rest of my life.  So a draft will make it onto this blog eventually.

Happy novel writing!  I need to get back to work.