By Yolande Clark-Jackson
I recently read this blog entry by Alexis Paige on Brevity and it got me thinking about my own writing resolutions. I have a memoir I need to finish, some habits I need to form, and some tools I need to sharpen in the toolbox, so I could relate to this writer’s musings about her writing life. The only thing I must preface this repost with is a side note on her first resolution. She includes an excerpt from another writer who shares her thoughts on blogging that struck a teeny tiny nerve. When you read it, you’ll probably think that I took it too personal, and you’ll be right. Yet, I still want to state my opinion about blogging here, especially if you have ever been met with this conflict yourself. In my opinion, blogging shouldn’t be about expanding a platform or be seen as creating distractions from more important things. It should be about thinking, writing, and sharing. And, if one writes for the sake of writing, whether anyone reads it or not, then the writer can never arrive at a conflict. Yet, despite her blog entry leading in with a question on whether or not blogging is a worthwhile endeavor, Paige includes some thoughts that I felt would appeal to writers across genre lines. She is honest and funny, and makes herself vulnerable to the reader like many non-fiction writers do. This makes her reader take what she writes personal. You become invested. Ms. Paige also includes titles of some other great posts from the past year that were published on the site. So, all in all, it’s a good read, and I felt it was worth reposting.
“Seven Ways of Looking at a Resolution” by Alexis Paige
1) I will blog. Or, not.
On Being an Inept Blogger, by Marcia Aldrich, January 13th, 2014:
“I should be finding ways to focus my reading, not further my distractions. So too with my own writing. I have a file cabinet with drafts of essays I haven’t managed to complete, drafts of books I’ve abandoned in boxes that block movement in my study…
“So why take time away from my primary pursuits to write a blog? Wasn’t I going to contribute to the problem, writing more stuff no one has time to read? And yet blogging was one of the crucial elements I was advised to undertake in the service of promoting my book.”
In this post, excerpted on Brevity, and available in full on her Backhand Blog, Marcia Aldrich makes a wonderful case for ambivalence regarding the age-old question: to blog, or not to blog. Aldrich outlines varied bloggerly concerns—from time, topic, and focus; to her own resistance to writing about the act of writing about something (suicide) that was, in the first place, very difficult to write. She says, ultimately, “I’d rather have the book languish on the dustiest shelf in the world emporium of remaindered books if to sell it I had to perform his death over and over. I had done that in writing the book, and it was all I could do.”
This post made clear two things: blog or don’t freaking blog. I didn’t know I was looking for permission on this account until I read about Aldrich’s struggle. She freed me to embrace my digital media ineptitude, or contrariness, or fear, or whatever it is. And so, my friends, I resolve in 2015 to do one or the other, resolutely. Or, maybe I will go back and forth, continuing to agonize (the way I do over the last 10 pounds, as if they matter, if they are the last lbs. on Earth) about the dreaded “platform.” (See how I put it in quotes? That’s because I refuse to acknowledge the writer’s “platform” as “a thing.”) You know what now seems a more doable resolution, one far from the maddening meta-toils of the blogging question? Losing those last 10 pounds.
2) I will do my homework.
Seven Essays I Meet in My Literary Heaven, by Jennifer Niesslein, January 21st, 2014
Look, I love lists, stacks, bullet points, maps, and assignments. Tell me what to do, please. Writing prompts, however, I do not love. It’s okay if you do (I’m not here to hate), but prompts make me think of husky-voiced workshop house-mother types off-gassing incantatory affirmations and possibly Nag Champa incense. Don’t get me wrong, I like Nag Champa: many languid afternoons were spent lolling under its spell. The point is, by way of my own associative rabbit hole, I find writing prompts, well, kinda culty.
But Niesslein’s inspired list of seven essay types with accompanying contemporary examples, from The Essay that Manages to Be Funny, Poignant, and Thought-Provoking All at the Same Time; to The Essay that Illuminates Naked Yearning, provides perfect assignments for the essayist. Not too amorphous, not too prescriptive. So in 2015, I’m going to write one of these from Niesslein’s list. If you’re a resolutions overachiever, you should probably do all seven. Any fewer and no Auld Lang Syne for you next New Year’s.
3) Embrace Rejection!
The Form Rejection Letter Decoder Thingy, by Brevity’s Sarah Einstein, Feb 10th, 2014,
Sarah Einstein takes the sting out of rejection with her downloadable Cootie Catcher, which offers kind and generous reassurances to the delicate writer: “The piece was beautifully written and the editors feel sure some lucky journal will take it.” Or, “The editors admired the piece but it reminded them of another they published last issue.” See? It’s not you! Really. It’s them! Now go print one off, and put it on your desk next to the Magic Eight Ball. During writing breaks, you can consult the oracles.
4) Don’t reinvent the wheel/ Keep submitting!
Finding A Market For Your Flash Nonfiction, by Chelsea Biondolillo, March 11th, 2014.
I actually started this one in 2014. First, I ripped off her succinct cover letter and saved it in my submissions folder. (It’s an homage, okay?) Then, I took Biondolillo’s exhaustively-researched list and put it up on a bulletin board. I’ve submitted to a good number of these journals already and will round out the list in 2015. Why reinvent the wheel when the Internet (I mean, Chelsea) has already done the work for you? Bonus? You can cross-reference rejection letters with your decoder thingy from resolution #3. And then make ironic DIY wallpaper out of all of the above.
5) Let out the words trapped inside.
On Writing, Survival, and Empowerment, an interview with Brevity’s Kelly Sundberg, by Sarah Einstein, April 16th, 2014.
“I had compulsively searched the internet for stories about domestic violence, but much of it wasn’t recognizable to me. The authors weren’t grappling in the way that I was grappling.”
Perhaps all writers have stories they need to let out, in order to free not only themselves, but to free others from similar experiences, or to free others to make art out of travail. My own, which I have guarded tightly for 13 years, has only recently begun to rise to a place from which I might access and write it. It’s the story of, and here’s the problem, my rape? sexual assault? which occurred on a trip to Italy in the summer of 2001. See how language still eludes me? Grappling is the word Sundberg uses to describe the process of writing her domestic abuse story in such a way as to remain faithful to a certain ambiguity. I suspect that when the writer becomes a statistic, the language has to be dealt with as much as the event. Is rape what you want to call it? someone said to me in those early days. I didn’t want to call it anything, actually, and so for years I ate it and drank it and drugged it and stuffed it. But stories have their own buoyancy and schedule, and as I said, mine is surfacing. Now is the time for me to let out the words. Sundberg did it, and though she might disagree, she did it bravely. And I can do it, and so can you.
6) Lean on a To-do List
Lightning and the Lightning Bug: A Revision Checklist, by Susan Tiberghien, July 3rd, 2014.
Writing is often unsatisfying. You go away to your cave, for years at a time, and you emerge squinting and grizzled with (if you’re fortunate) some finished work, perhaps even (if you’re really lucky) a bound rectangular object made of paper and ink, filled with pages of said work. See, I made this! you can say. You can finally show the object to people; the work is real. But from most days at the writing factory you return empty-handed. No sales, no widgets. After many days like these, I need to sink into a concrete writing activity. I need some tactility, proof of my own writerly existence. A revision checklist, like Tiberghien’s here, can provide just the structure I need when writing begins to feel like a formless slog. So the next time I find myself on a dry-cereal-eating pajama-wearing-for-days bender, I vow to pull out this revision checklist and my red pen. And you should join me. (Pajamas optional.)
7) Give Yourself Permission
Give Yourself Permission, by Brevity’s Allison K. Williams, November 24th 2014
“You are what you present yourself as. You have a right to define yourself, and project that definition to others. Every time you say what you want to be is what you are, you help move yourself ahead and you let others help you move ahead. Like dressing for the job you want to be hired for.”
Fake it until you make it they say. They say a lot of things, some of them glib, some helpful. But, hey, I’m not above platitudinal assistance. Every year around this time, I get caught up in the clean-slate fervor of the season, searching for a new slogan to take with me into the next. I found 2015’s mantra in Williams’s heartening post, and thus, all year long I will be giving myself permission. To write. To fail. To succeed. To move myself ahead. This phrase, like bits of poetry or jingles or slogans before it, will be the layer of mental nacre I wear into the shiny new year. I’m giving myself permission, for example, to declare the following: I am finishing my first memoir and actively seeking an agent and publication. Just writing that down makes me feel a little taller. What will you do this year to move your writing ahead? What will you give yourself permission to claim in 2015?
Alexis Paige’s work has appeared in Passages North, Fourth Genre, The Rumpus, Pithead Chapel, and on Brevity’s blog, where she serves as Assistant Editor. Winner of the 2013 New Millennium Writings Nonfiction Prize, she also received a recent Pushcart Prize nomination and a feature on Freshly Pressed by WordPress. Twice named a top-ten finalist of Glamour Magazine’s essay contest, Paige holds an MA in poetry from San Francisco State University and an MFA in nonfiction from the Stonecoast creative writing program. You can find her at alexispaigewrites.com.