Monthly Archives: June 2013

for those who’s passions are divided…

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A friend recently emailed me about feeling like she is pulled between two different directions for life work and graduate school.  It reminded me of my own experiences during my 20’s, and I feel like this is something many people must go through, so I want to devote a post to how I came to decide between my art and my writing.

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I grew up writing poetry and drawing, because my mother used to write poetry and she did a lot of sketching, toll painting, and craft projects that made me really inspired to do my own things with pencils, paint, and pens.  I loved English and Art throughout High School, so when I went to college, I double majored in both English, with a writing focus, and Studio Art, with a painting focus.  The first job I got after college was painting a mural of a sunset and a Robert Frost quote.  After that, I painted a handful of murals in Rhode Island, New Hampshire, North India, Kenya, and Key West.  I also taught mural painting to primary school children in Dun Chaoin, Ireland (which was even more fun than painting murals).  You can see these murals on my author website HERE.  I am most proud of my experiences teaching mural painting in Ireland and of the Key West mural, but during all of these projects, I was always writing poetry, memoir, or fiction on the side.

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I was doing a lot of smaller paintings while living on the west coast of Ireland from 2005 until the end of 2006.  It was during this time that I wrote the first draft of my memoir of Animal Care in South India and the life of my dear friend Ann, who I lost to colon cancer in 2005.  I’ll always love that magic that happens when I sit in front of a wall or a canvas and just paint.  Or the magic of travel photography, which I also dabbled in, but I never developed my ability to edit my photos after taking them.  I just loved taking great travel pictures, which made me more of a snapshot photographer than a real photographer.

Anyway—it was through the writing of my memoir of stray dogs, and through the poetry I was perpetually writing about my romantic relationships and my relationship to the world, that I came to realize something important:

I might LOVE painting and photography, but I also LOVE writing.

So how do I choose which to devote my life to 100%, knowing that the “runner up” would probably only get 30% of my attention henceforth?

I decided on the writing because I read my words and I looked at my pictures, and I saw that I was a much better writer than I was an artist/photographer.  I also needed to write far more often than I needed to paint or take pictures of things.  And that’s what prompted me to apply to Goddard College for my MFA in Creative Writing, instead of going to art or photography school.

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So what I’m offering to you with this post, if you are thus “undecided”, or “balancing between” two passions, or three passions) — do the following:

1.  Seriously critique your work thus far in those fields.  Answer this question honestly—which thing do I do better?

2.  Think about your NEEDS.  Ask yourself—which thing do I need to do more often?  Which thing can I live without, and which can’t I live without?

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Don’t think about money, or which would be easier to devote your life to, because we aren’t here to sit back and take it easy.  We’re here to follow our passions and go on adventures—right?

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draft 5…draft 6…draft 15…?

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One BIG QUESTION for all writers is – how many drafts do we really have to write for our manuscript to become that elusive “DONE”?

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I’ve been struggling with that question for years, but I think with the completion of each project, the answer gradually gets clearer.  I would now advise any new writers (those without at least one published book-length manuscript, in Prose or Poetry), to do at least 10 drafts of their project before submitting it to publishers/agents or self-publishing.  I thought that might be the “rule” to always follow, but I’m realizing, at draft 5 of my newest manuscript, that the more books you write, the more “finished” your writing is from the start.  It’s all about practice, though there will always be those books or poems that take ten years or longer to finish, or twenty revisions before they get to the point that feels like they have hit their true form.

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I am a firm believer that no piece of writing (or art) is ever “finished.”  We can always always revise it more, go deeper, let it grow, evolve, dream itself into new forms, but there is a point where something has taught us as much as it possibly can teach us—the point where our journey and the journey of a manuscript has certainly reached the point of parting ways.

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It’s terribly hard to know sometimes, when we are done, or even just—when we need a break.  I get obsessive with my writing, I dive into it like it’s a parallel world, and if I don’t have the right goal/dream in mind, sometimes I carry a project to a place I didn’t mean to carry it, a place it shouldn’t be.

I thought draft 4 was DONE for my latest work, so I sent it out, and sure enough, it wasn’t done yet.  It was missing the deeper energy and lyricism I think of as my own personal style of writing.  And I realized, that draft was missing something because I was just trying to get it done fast—I was rushing it.  Rushing the first few drafts of something is absolutely FINE, though.  It’s the part where I thought they were DONE that was wrong.  So now, with draft 5, I’ve started over completely.  I’m telling the same story, but I’m changing a lot of the world facts, some of the plot, some of the characters, etc.  And I’m writing it slowly—I’m not forcing myself to write every day, and I’m only letting myself write when I NEED TO WRITE, when the desire to write surpasses every other feeling in my heart.  Because then, I’ll know, I’m writing from the right place.  I’m writing from my heart.

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I’ve so far written almost 5,000 words, some of them taken from the 4th draft, but most are new.  And it’s been one week (which means, I’m writing in pretty much half the speed I wrote the first 4 drafts, where I wrote 10,500 or so words a week for 6 weeks).  So, really, I’m still obsessed enough to make good progress, but I finally feel that amazing, mysterious sensation that my story is telling itself.  I think that happens when the words are flowing exactly the right way—it doesn’t mean I’m writing the final draft, but I’m writing the real story, and my characters are speaking from their hearts, too.  It’s the most incredible feeling and probably my favorite part of writing.

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So, in speaking to new writers, and writers everywhere—remember that deadlines are nobody’s friend.  This is a sailing lesson, too.  If you rush a boat, you might wreck your boat.  The same is true for our novels and poems and memoirs, but thankfully, with our writing, the repairs are easier.  Of course, writing “repairs” are less tangible, they’re only words, they’re not a hole in your hull, or a torn sail, or broken mast, but they might feel that way.  When we work so hard at something, when it takes over our lives, and we find out—alas—it’s NOT DONE YET, that can be devastating, but when we get over the initial shock, the initial feeling of loss and emptiness (because I have felt empty of words), we realize that we CAN ACTUALLY REVISE, that the words never leave us.  The words never leave at all.

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I’ve heard some people say that “writer’s block” is a myth, and we can always get out of it, we can always free write ourselves out of those kinds of blocks, and sometimes I believe it.  But sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes, I think it’s okay to take a break, feel the emptiness for a while, and then let the words come back slowly (or quickly), like wild animals we might meet in a forest, or on the water.  You can never predict when a dolphin will decide to play between your hulls when you’re sailing a catamaran, just like you can never predict when a fox might step towards you, might even walk straight up to you, and look you in the eye—when the words just appear seemingly out of thin air, and it’s like floodgates opening.

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Part of me is writing this to tell other writers: don’t despair when you realize you’ve revised your work to death and it STILL needs more revising.  Or when your work gets rejected.  I don’t yet have an agent (though I feel absolutely blessed to have one published novel out there circulating in the Universe), but I’ve heard that even when you do have one, you’re still going to get rejected, or be forced to revise things so many times, you might find yourself going crazy.  Take a breath, and keep going though, this is our dream job, isn’t it?

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Wishing everyone the best of luck in their endeavors, whether they are writing or sailing, and remember, two things from this post:

DON’T RUSH.

THE WORDS NEVER LEAVE US.

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Lambda Literary Awards in NYC

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This is a short post which will explain ONE reason why I haven’t blogged as much as I’ve wanted to in the last few weeks:

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My partner and I were excited to attend the Lambda Literary Awards last week in NYC. 

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It was a beautiful ceremony, and I was thankful that my category, LGBT Debut Fiction, was first, so I didn’t have to hold my acceptance speech in clammy hands for too long.  I didn’t win, but I realize the huge honor of being recognized as a “FINALIST” and I was immensely thankful for that.  It felt pretty amazing to sit in a room full of almost 500 people and view my book Makara‘s cover on two HUGE screens.  Especially when this was Lambda’s 25th Award Ceremony!

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Cherrie Moraga’s speech was honest and terribly enlightening, Master of Ceremonies Kate Clinton was delightfully funny, and Janis Ian’s performance was beautiful (my interpreter did an incredible job with signing her lyrics).  I felt myself almost weeping at times, especially during the slideshow honoring important members of the LGBT and queer community who have passed on.  John Irving was there, and my partner actually got to shake his hand and say a few words to him during the VIP After Party.  The After Party was in the Sky Room of the New Museum, where you can see the whole of New York city around you.  I loved being able to stand on a balcony with so many members of the literary LGBT and queer community.  I feel honored to be part of this eclectic group, and can’t wait to be able to submit more of my work to this foundation.

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