Writing about writing

Hi. My name is Polly Watson and I have an addiction. I am addicted to the works of Julia Cameron. I have read everything by her that I can get my hands on and I still have a ways to go. I am currently reading Finding Water, the third in her trifecta The Artist’s Way series. I have completed every writing prompt to the best of my ability as I have been able. I am trying to do the Artist Dates–I’m still not very good at them because I don’t do sitting still very well, but I’m trying. I am not taking the walks because I struggle with walking because of the pain in my back–and because of the summer heat.

I LOVE her idea of Morning Pages–writing 3 full pages on 8-1/2 x 11 paper immediately upon waking every single day. I believe every word Julia writes regarding the value of them and their validity in our lives. I do find myself enjoying the process as well as the simple act of writing–pen scratching across the page–each morning. I didn’t realize that I had so much going on inside my head first thing in the morning until I started writing Morning Pages! Only once or twice this summer have I had days when I simply had to force the words.

For almost 10 years, I have done Morning Pages off and on. I do much better with them in the summer than the school year. The problem during the school year is that I would much rather sleep until the last possible second, get up, and race out the door than to get up at least 45 minutes early to write my Morning Pages–in spite of how much I value them. I have completed them now every single day this summer so far. And I love writing them.

But that is most of the writing I have been doing this summer. I had all these wonderful plans as my school year came to a close of writing a LOT this summer on my memoir–of working diligently on getting it ready for publication–of sending out proposals and working on getting an agent…or getting it ready for self-publication if I changed my mind and decided to go in that direction. But I have not done any of that so far and here we are almost at the end of June.

I LOVE to write. I KNOW that I am supposed to–meant to–publish my story. I have dreamed of sharing it for years now. I even have a solid rough draft. I have my “Joy Regardless” blog that I write related to my memoir. I have enough followers for that to feel validated in following through with publishing.

So why do I continue to stall? What is the holdup? Is it only the act of writing that I love? The process? Sharing my writing is definitely a part of my writing goals, but I make no real effort to do so beyond my blogs and Morning Pages.

Maybe, just maybe, my blogs and my Morning Pages are enough….

…for now.

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Write SOMETHING…

As a writing instructor at the college level, I spend quite a bit of class time in all my classes (basic college writing classes as well as in literature classes) discussing with my students how even if they have no idea what to write [about]–what to say, they should just write SOMETHING–put SOMETHING down on paper even if that something is “I have nothing to say” over and over and over and over and over again. I have even told them to write their name over and over again if they couldn’t think of anything to write. The important thing, I always tell them, is to come to class with SOMETHING written–never come to writing class empty-handed.

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I spend a lot of class time discussing/lecturing my students on the importance of writing SOMETHING, of never coming to class empty-handed. I have stories of previous students who have written about sitting in their little red truck before class and writing about sitting in their little red truck before class writing because Mrs. Watson said never to come to class empty-handed.

I use the movie Quills as an example of how if the Marquis de Saad could find a way to write, they can find a way to write. (In the movie, the Marquis continues to write in spite of continually having his writing utensils–quills–taken away from him. He finally uses his own feces in his own desperation to write.)

Without always using the words “stream of consciousness,” I teach my students to write stream of consciousness style writing rather than not write anything at all. When they don’t know what to write, quite often just the physical act of writing sometimes helps them end up with a workable document. I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as writer’s block. Those who try to argue that they have writer’s block are simply looking for an excuse not to write–do what needs to be done.

When I was growing up, I was teased mercilessly that I had “dish-pan hands” because rather than doing the dishes after supper, I would disappear into the bathroom–until the dishes were done by someone else.

In other words, we tend to avoid what we don’t want to do and many of us don’t want to write. We put a fancy spin on it by saying we have writer’s block, but it boils down to the plain and simple fact that we just don’t want to write. (I didn’t want to do the dishes, so I used the bathroom.)

As my summer is beginning, I have been excited about the opportunity to have a summer of teaching online only so I can spend my summer writing. But now that the time has come, I’m blocked–apparently I don’t want to write.

Wait a second; let me clarify that statement. I want to write. I am having a ball writing in my journals–I have several and I have written in every one every day since the Spring semester ended. I am writing letters and emails and enjoying every moment of the writing. This is already my second blog entry for this blog of mine in less than two weeks and I have enjoyed writing each entry.

The problem is that I do not want to write what I had originally intended on spending my summer writing and working on: my memoir. While I have a really good draft, I no longer have any desire to work on it at this time.

What I do want to do is color. I have been doing a lot of coloring in my journaling Bible and thoroughly enjoying it. The strangest thing about my coloring, though, is that what I really want to do is just color a whole blank page with the same color.

And that’s exactly what I did.

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 I kept telling myself that I should draw something–I should use this really cool paint pen for something more creative than simply coloring a whole blank page. So I tried drawing a few sunflowers and writing the word “joy” over and over, but I kept going back to coloring the whole page. I colored four or five whole pages….no images…just colored the pages and I loved every second of it.

A part of me felt (still feels) guilty for “wasting” the ink in this cool paint pen with coloring whole pages rather than doing something more creative and artistic with it. The other part of me feels very satisfied with my coloring pages. There was something very cathartic about coloring whole pages with a paint pen.

It was my artistic version of stream of consciousness writing. In spite of our feeling as if we’ve wasted our time by writing a bunch of so-called gibberish or coloring a whole page the same color, there is great value in doing SOMETHING. Writing the same thing over and over again or coloring a whole page one color has great artistic value–because at least I’m doing SOMETHING.

No writing is ever wasted time.

No coloring is ever wasted time.

No ART is ever wasted time.

I wonder what Julia Cameron would say…..

Why is it that the anticipation of something is quite often better than the actual something?

I know. I know. That’s awfully deep for a Tuesday afternoon.

Sorry. Not sorry.

As you know if you read my previous entry, I had a writing retreat this past weekend. I had been wanting to do something like that for years–ever since my husband gave me a 3-day writing retreat over the Christmas holidays sixteen years ago. I went somewhere with no internet (you have NO idea how horrible that was), no television, no cell service, and no communication with others or the outside world. It was at a chalet in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by the beauty of nature: birds [singing], squirrels, a stream heavy with recent rains, trees newly budded, and even a few adorable bunny rabbits hopping around!

Thankfully the only snakes were dead in the middle of the road.

Whew.

The first day, Wednesday, was awesome. We ran errands throughout the morning and arrived at our destination at exactly check-in time. The newness of the situation along with the quiet and beauty of the noise and silence only nature itself creates to instill calm and peace deep within one’s very being. I wrote in my journal. I read for awhile. And I wrote some more in my journal.

The newness of the situation along with the quiet and beauty of the noise and silence only nature itself creates to instill calm and peace deep within one’s very being. I wrote in my journal. I read for awhile. And I wrote some more in my journal.

I had to sleep in a bed. Considering the fact that I haven’t slept in a bed for more than seven years, it was a challenge, but I was able to get enough sleep that I only needed one or two naps on day two.

Throughout day two, I read, wrote–outlined, read, wrote some more–outlined, journaled, and read some more. My friend and I worked on editing an amazing story she is currently working on to be published.

Towards the end of day two, I started to feel “off.” It’s difficult to explain unless you have experienced the feeling, but I began to wonder if I just needed more sleep, if I needed to eat more than I was eating, or if there was something in the air that needed refreshing. By the time I woke up on the third day, I was in trouble.

Even looking at a computer screen let alone paper (or even holding a pen in my hand) made me dizzy and nauseous, so no writing was done at all from the evening of day two on for me.

I began throwing up within half an hour after eating breakfast and continued to throw up every few minutes throughout the next several hours.

My friend continued working on her story while I alternately slept, read, and threw up. Misery is a nice word for how much I felt like death warmed over. Honestly, death would have been preferable to how I felt.

Needless to say, we had to leave in the middle of the afternoon on Day #3, Friday. Thankfully my friend was with me and able to drive me back down the mountain while I spent the drive heaving into a throw-up bag I had left over from December when I was in the hospital having my gallbladder removed.

I spent the next two and a half days hugging the porcelain throne, praying for death to ease my suffering.

Writing?

Ha!

Dang it.

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To make my retreat that much more wonderful, my carpal tunnel decided to rear its ugly head and I was at the orthopedic doctor by Monday afternoon getting a steroid shot.

One thing I have realized during this writing retreat is that I do not really want to write a BOOK. I love journaling and writing blog entries. I can’t stand the whole idea, process, etc. of putting together a book. While I have a number of drafts of books that are workable and possibly good enough to be published–after careful editing, of course, I am not so sure that publishing a whole book is the direction I want to continue working towards anymore.

I love the whole process of relatively short essays and journal-style entries. I love that they are “easy” for me to write and edit and publish. I love that they do not take my readers all that long to read–except for entries like this one when I simply have a lot to say. 😉

I am not so sure that I want to work towards publishing my memoir as a book–as one entity–any longer. I’m thinking that I might continue blogging my memoir and stay with blogging as my medium of sharing rather than sallying forth with a whole book.

The other option that I am considering seriously is to move almost completely into writing Bible Studies–as I discussed in a previous blog (the one about moving into unchartered territory–writing without a net).

For now, I will not make any firm decisions because I realize that such decisions could be coming out of the desperate awfulness of being so very sick and a desire not to do anything at all–writing or otherwise. But these are some possible considerations that I am beginning to consider and pray about.

So my writing retreat was a failure because we had to leave early and I was so very sick, sadly. But it may also be considered a success because I may have realized my real writing focus that works best for ME rather than pushing myself into something I’ve been fighting because it really isn’t the writing format that is RIGHT for ME…

Hmmm……

Writing Retreat

Excitement is in the air! For the first time ever, I’m going on a writing retreat! I’ll be away for three days! Where I’m going has little to no cell phone reception. There are no TVs anywhere on the grounds! I’ll have internet connection, but only because I’m taking mine with me. I can’t write a lot and risk losing any of it, you know!!!

It’ll be private and quiet! No responsibilities. No worries. No cares. No deadlines or grading.

And no people! While I am definitely a people-person–a true extrovert, even people like me need down time–time alone.

I’m especially excited to use this time specifically for writing. I’m going to try not to take a bunch of other things to work on so I can concentrate on my writing. That part is going to be difficult, but I will give it my best shot!

What else would I do? Color. Read. Color some more. Sleep. It’s the sleeping that is going to be the most difficult to avoid. I’m tired. Hopefully, I will be able to sleep enough between now and then so that I won’t be so tired that’s all I do!

This will be the first writing retreat for me ever! Should I plan my writing schedule or wing it? Do I set a wake-up alarm? Do I create any kind of schedule? What should I do during my “down” time–the time when I’m not writing?!

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Writing without a Net

Over the many years I have been writing, most of it has been for personal use only–journaling, participation in NaNoWriMo without any intentions of doing anything with my novel, blogging, or for school purposes (as an English Instructor, it’s impossible not to write). I have never feared my writing–what I write, how I write, the physical presentation of what I write, and so on. I have always written mostly for myself and in a manner that pleases me, myself, and I–since I had no intentions of publishing anything I wrote.

But in recent months (ok, years), I’ve determined to finish my memoir and publish it. (Still vacillating between self-publishing and going the traditional route.) In doing research on memoirs and the publication of memoirs (because that’s what we’re supposed to do before publishing, right? research the genre to see what else is available?), I have discovered that the memoir genre is wide open for methods in presentations. The memoir genre is currently hot in the world of reading as is evidenced by the fact that we can’t really do a search of any kind on a subject without running across a memoir on that subject.

The good news is that means that my memoir fits right in with the current demand. The bad news is that so many people are writing and publishing their memoirs. That means then that I have to find a way to write my memoir in such a way as to make it stand out from the rest, to make it similar enough to other memoirs so I don’t scare away potential readers, but different enough so that readers don’t toss it aside with a groan because it’s “just another memoir.”

I feel fairly confident that I have found a way to put my memoir together in such a way as to be just different enough to be cutting edge and just similar enough that readers will be glad to pick it up to read.

One idea I have about my memoir that is very different from other memoirs is that I would like to include or publish alongside my memoir a Bible Study. This is where I’m thrown for a loop. While I have read and completed many Bible Studies over the years, I have never even thought of let alone attempted to write one. As I have begun researching how to write (put together) a Bible Study for publication, I have discovered that there is NO information on “how to write [and publish] a Bible Study.” There are dozens if not hundreds of books, websites, etc. about how to write and publish a memoir (or just about any other genre you can name or imagine), but there is NOTHING on writing/putting together a Bible Study!

Considering the fact that I am writing in unchartered territory, I was hoping for at least a little guidance in writing a Bible Study–as I have had over the years when writing fiction or basic non-fiction. But there is NOTHING. At least not anything that I have found at this point.

I have come to the conclusion then that there are no rules or guidelines that are expected to be followed when it comes to writing a Bible Study. I’m sure there are some because obviously writing a Bible Study involves using the Bible itself and must be faith-based, but are there rules or guidelines regarding the expected translation? Are there guidelines regarding physical appearance on the page?

What makes things even more interesting, if you will allow me to use that term, is that I want to write a JOURNALING Bible Study and maybe even include pictures to color!!!! Are there any rules or guidelines regarding journaling Bible Studies or including pictures to color in a Bible Study??

The good news is that no two Bible Studies that I have ever done have ever been exactly the same style or set-up (except those that are published by the same group or organization, but even within the group, the set-up is unique to each). The bad news is that means that I have to “invent” my own style or set-up.

The good news is that this means that I GET to “invent” my own style or set-up for my JOURNALING BIBLE STUDY/Memoir!!!!

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Life-Long Learner

As I have shared with you before, I am an English Instructor at a community college. I have been teaching English for a total of 19 years–counting the 2 years I taught at a high school. I think that it is safe to say that I am well-versed and educated in the field of writing and literature. At least, I feel confident that you will agree with me in that respect.

In spite of almost twenty years of teaching experience as a writing instructor, I am always learning and growing, not only as an instructor, but also as a writer. I do a lot of writing myself. I tell my students all the time that I do not ask them to do anything that I have not done myself or that I am not willing to do myself. So if I give them an assignment and I have never done what I am assigning, I will do it, too. Sometimes I share with them the writing that I do.

The bottom line is that I believe that no matter how good we may be in our field of expertise, we are life-long learners; we are always and can always learn something new or a new way of doing things. (Technology alone keeps us teachers on our toes!) Therefore, I am always reading about writing, writing about writing, participating in writing groups, and so on. I have recently begun taking a writing class at a local library. The focus is supposed to be on publishing–the area I am weakest in, but of course, in order to get to the publishing aspect, we have to do the writing first!

Thankfully, I am enjoying this experience with like-minded writers outside of my own classroom setting. Yes, it is difficult to be the student rather than the instructor, but it is also important as a teacher to be reminded of what it is like being a student. When I put myself in their shoes every once in a while, I find myself being more empathetic regarding their work and performance in my classroom, especially in regards to constructive criticism since I have such a horrific fear of rejection and/or criticism!! (It’s true.)

Anyway, our first writing assignment for this class was to choose a place of importance to write about. Following is my essay for that assignment–prior to in-class revisions or in-class peer reviews:

20151128_171729The KinDome

By Polly Anna Watson

I was 7 years old when we first moved to North Carolina. We lived in a house my parents had purchased in Nashville that was part of a typical familial sub-division. I had a lot of good memories in that house, but my parents had a dream of building a home of their own–a dome.

Years prior, they had seen a dome home at a Home Show they had gone to in Ohio. Mom fell in love and from that moment on, they dreamed of one day living in a dome home.

Sometime around the time I was in late 5th or 6th grade, my parents bought a piece of property just a few miles away from the home my grandparents had recently moved into. They immediately began clearing the property of trees and began researching dome homes. It took a number of years, but the day came when we moved into our basement–that was all that was built and semi-ready to be lived in. I was starting 7th grade and had to switch from the north end of the county to the south end of the county.

We lived in the basement for several years while the upstairs–top part of the dome–was built. I remember the day we put the shell up; it was like a good old-fashioned barn-raising. We had men and women from all over the county come and help. As was typical, the men worked on the building while the women cooked and made sure the men had plenty to drink.

I had enough of a fascination with photography that during the building of the dome, my dad let me use his Nikon camera that he’d gotten while he was in Vietnam to take pictures. I became the official photographer of the building of the dome. I had no training, but I did the best I could and learned a lot in the process.

Everyone in the family worked on the dome in some, way, shape, form, or fashion, including my Grandpa who had to have been in his sixties during the years we built the dome. My dad studied and learned how to do everything necessary so that the only things he had to get contractors for was putting in the upstairs railing, doing the carpeting, the painting upstairs, and having kitchen cabinets made. And he only hired contractors because the bank demanded that he finish building the dome.

Along with being the “official” photographer (I just had a deja-vu moment–it’s as if I was writing this very essay while watching Dances with Wolves already), it was also my job to be my dad’s gopher, cook quick lunches when I was not in school, make the sweet tea and/or kool-aid and be sure everyone had something to drink and stayed hydrated, and as I got older, I helped with cutting the insulation and then the wood paneling for the triangles. I remember having to take the insulation or pieces of the triangle from where my dad and I cut them on a model he’d made on the floor to my grandpa who was up on the scaffolding, putting in the insulation and the paneling. As someone who was (and still is) scared of heights, this was the worst job in the world for me. I hated it, but I was determined to do my part, so I pushed through–usually because I wasn’t given the option of anything less.

I’m not sure of the official height and other dimensions of the dome, but I do know that the center from floor to ceiling is at least 25 feet. There are 2-½ floors: the full basement (full bathroom, bedrooms, and kitchen with all the amenities), main floor (2 bedrooms, 1-½ baths, kitchen, and main living room), and the upstairs balcony with 2 bedrooms overlooking the main floor and a large bathroom in between. There are two porches–one that wraps fully around half the dome and the other that is ¼ of the other side with a covered porch.

My room was the one of the left looking up into the balcony and my older brother’s room was the one on the right. We can see directly into each bedroom. I had a closet, but my brother only had an armoire. We quickly learned to respect one another’s privacy. My little sister had the bedroom off the kitchen and my parents’ bedroom was through the bathroom and on the other side.

The day we put in all the kitchen appliances was my little sister’s 7th birthday, so even to this day, she jokes that all the kitchen appliances are hers. Although just recently, Mom and Dad had to get a brand new refrigerator. It’s hard to believe sometimes that more than thirty years have passed since we even finished building the dome! The roof had to be replaced where the skylights are because of water damage and the whole house was reshingled just a few years ago.

I had my first real kiss on the upstairs staircase during my 16th birthday party. The boy I was absolutely in love with had come to my birthday party. I was overjoyed, to say the least! He pulled me aside for a little tete-a-tete on the stairs. While we were there, he kissed me! Granted, it was just a short and simple, closed-mouth kiss, but it was the sweetest moment ever!!! I was so in love with that boy!!! What made that birthday all the more memorable was that in preparation for my party, I moved my parents’ car off to the side of the main driveway to make room for my friends’ cars. In moving the car, though, I backed into a tree! I dented both the back and front driver’s side doors. To my knowledge, those dents stayed in that car even through two separate owners!

We celebrated my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary in the dome. All my aunts, uncles, cousins, and other friends and family members came and we all fit into the dome just fine. We also celebrated their lives in the dome after their deaths–again with everyone in the family. During weddings (such as mine, my sister’s, and my uncle’s), we have had upwards of 25 people sleeping and staying at the dome at once. We celebrate almost every Christmas at the dome together as well as Thanksgiving and other major holidays. We used to get a Christmas tree that went high enough that we had to have a ladder even on the balcony in order to put the tree-top on! In recent years, though, my parents have purchased a smaller tree and kept it wrapped throughout the year and pull it out on the balcony at Christmas.

It is wonderful to sit in the dome now, more than twenty years later, knowing that we each had used our own bare hands to piece together my parents’ dream home. I love being at the dome not only because it’s so beautiful, but also because the dome means home, love, family, and togetherness. Honestly, I hope that the day comes when I am able to spend my final days at the dome.

When I die, I want to be cremated and my ashes used as the fodder for a tree that will be planted near the dome so that I will forever and ever be a part of the dome, even if that is only my remains that do so.

Butt in chair

As a writing instructor as well as a writer-wanna-be, I have read and taught more times than I am able to count about the importance of “butt-in-chair” when it comes to writing. The most basic answer to the question “how do I write?” is for the would-be writer to sit down and write–whether it be by hand or digitally doesn’t matter. What matters is putting the butt in a chair and writing.

Period.

Ha!

Haha!

Hahaha!

Yeah. Right.

If only it were that easy.

Because, see, here’s the problem: the moment I put my butt in my chair to write, I think about the hundred other things that I need to be doing–the 100 things that honestly have priority over writing–except during NaNoWriMo (November). At the top of that list of important projects is the grading that always needs to be done. If you teach, then you know that even before you finish grading one assignment, another is already waiting behind it to be graded.

And if grading isn’t the top priority, then prep work is. Any good teacher knows that even when we have assignments that we recycle, assignments are constantly being improved upon or simply changing based on class personality or needs. Which means, then, that even seasoned teachers such as myself are always doing prep work.

Since my son is currently a teenager, he no longer needs to live in mommy’s pocket, but yet because he is an only child, he loves having my undivided attention. That means that my son–my family–more often than not takes priority over my writing.

With all that being said, though, I have this desperate need deep in my very soul to write. I love to write. I love to journal. I love to write for my blogs. I have participated in NaNo for more than 10 years, off and on, and won at least half of those years. I love writing letters. I even enjoy writing up assignments for my classes.

So while I do have to prioritize because that is simply the way life goes, writing is and always will be lurking just below whatever item is at the very top of my list of priorities…which means that I will always find a way and time to put my butt in my chair and write–even if that means writing for no more than half an hour!

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