On Returning to Twitter

Almost three months ago (to the day), I deleted my two personal Twitter accounts, and I offered my rationale here. Yet, here I am, with a new Twitter account @plainswriter. What gives?

I don’t think my attitude has shifted much from what I shared in that post, but I realize the benefits of using Twitter, and for me as a writer, one reason for using Twitter is a way to promote my writing (whether posts on my website here or publications in magazines, journals, and/or books). I feel uncomfortable with the word “promotion,” but I also know that a writer wants (and needs) readers if the writer wishes to communicate to someone besides him or herself. I hope to broaden my audience over time. (There, I wrote it. Whew.)

My second reason for using Twitter (in terms of composing tweets) is as a way to encourage other writers and what they’re doing. A friend of mind said a good rule of thumb is for every post/tweet about your own work, you should post/tweet about three other people’s work. I’ll admit that’s a mindset that counters my disposition, but I plan to give it a try.

My third reason for using Twitter is to follow more closely my writing friends as well as the publications that I enjoy/admire. (Thanks for the “lists,” feature!) I will follow my other interests, too. Here’s my official description on Twitter: “Writer. Reader. Runner. Musician. Professor. Editor. Husband. Father. Christ-Follower.”

Fourth, I’m looking at Tweets as more of a challenge. Offer substance (yes, substance) in those 140 characters. I welcome a fun writing challenge, whether I impose restrictions/constraints on myself or the form/context dictates them.

Lastly, I’ve made a number of principles/guidelines for myself.

1. I’m not going to obsess about the number of followers.

2. I’m going to be selective about what I tweet, and to that end, keep in mind number 3.

3. I’m going to reflect before I tweet: what is my message? Why I am choosing to share this?

4. If I’m angry or upset, I will not use Twitter as my default mechanism for dealing with it.

5. I want, as much as possible, to encourage my fellow writers, the publications I appreciate, and others whom I follow (i.e., offering words of substance).

There might be others I add to the list, but this is a good starting point for me @plainswriter.

On Writing Spaces & Writing Practices

At some point in every creative writing (and composition) class, I address the topic of writing spaces and writing practices. I preface our discussion with a series of questions:

  • Where do you write?
  • Do you need complete silence? Some noise? A lot of noise?
  • When do you write?
  • Do you start right away on computer? Do you write with pen or pencil first?
  • Do you need to be by yourself?
  • Any certain beverages or foods you enjoy?
  • How long do you write before you take a break?
  • Do you share your drafts with anyone? If so, when in the process?

Once they’ve written their responses, students are generally quite willing to share their preferences, their struggles, their poor choices. (“I know it’s a bad habit, but I always have the TV on while I’m writing, and I am distracted.”) After most of the students have shared their responses, I offer some of my own practices, noting that they are practices I’ve developed over years and through trial and error.

The first point I offer is that I’ve learned to be flexible in the particulars. A writer needs to be adaptable. Surviving grad school has helped. Becoming a parent has really helped. I tell them that most days it’s challenging enough to schedule one hour, so I don’t have time to ponder and get distracted. (That’s why I run; that’s why I clean the house–two activities great for working through ideas, for pondering.)

Do I have preferences? Of course. The house to myself. Or one of my favorite coffeeshops. Instrumental music (sometimes). Complete silence (sometimes). Coffee. Cold Water. A candle burning. Reading a few pages of good writing first. But when it’s writing time, it’s “go” time. No excuses. I’m too busy to sit around waiting for so-called inspiration. Besides, through my own experience, I’ve learned to revise or draft “instantly” (little, if any, warm-up necessary).

Do I offer them advice? Of course. Don’t try to write a complete draft (of prose) in one sitting without taking a break. You can stop writing when you know what you’re going to write next. Don’t try to generate text while simultaneously trying to edit it. When you’re done writing, plan when and what you’ll write next. Reward yourself. All-nighters are a lie from the depths of hell. Proofread on a paper copy. Give yourself a night’s rest (if possible) between “finishing a paper” and proofreading it. Proofread it from end to beginning. Share it with a trusted reader (not just someone who will tell you what your itching ears want to hear). Take note of what’s happening when the writing is productive, and take note of what’s happening when the writing is, well, not as productive.

When I tell them that my threshold is 2 hours a day of drafting or revising, they often appear shocked. I’ve learned that consistency is more important that quantity. I completed my MFA and PhD by adhering to the principles in the previous paragraph. There were few times that I wrote more than 2 hours in a day. Yes, I’m in awe of writers who can write for 6 or 8 hours a day (wish I could do that), but I also know that’s not me. My head would explode. So, I’ll just keep plugging away, writing a “little” every day, not being in a hurry.

On Slowing Down

This is not a post railing against the fast-paced and out-of-control world we live in, railing against everyone always on phones or obsessing over glowing rectangles. (Although goodness knows I love Neil Postman.) It is, rather, about my efforts learning to run more slowly to get myself faster.

I didn’t really enjoy running until I started dating, got engaged to, and eventually married, a runner. Living in Portland, Oregon, where I could run outside all year round surely increased my love for the activity.

But it hasn’t been until this year that I started learning how to run at different paces. Prior to this year, I would normally run at whatever pace, not considering it much (except running faster, and certainly never to run at a slower pace). To my uninformed and immature running brain, running slowly on purpose was a silly idea. And certainly, the idea that I could use slow runs to improve my speed (for races) felt counterintuitive at best, absurd at worst.

Yet, in January when I began training for a 10-K (my first race in nearly 6 years), I decided to “try” what the training plan referred to as “easy runs.” The explanation said that I needed to be able to speak in full sentences. Because I always run by myself, I had no idea what this would mean for me once I tried it. At first, it felt to my body as though I might as well have walked instead. How could this be running? It felt as though I were cheating somehow, in some way.

I’m six months into learning how to run “easy” (defined for me as close to 11:00/mile pace). Now I’m starting to believe in and experience the main reason for doing slow runs: to give my body a rest from and to prepare for harder workouts that I still enjoy more. Those 20-minute tempo runs (at race pace). Those 1/4 mile repeats (sometimes 6, sometimes 8) alternating running 1/4 mile with jogging a 1/4 mile.

I should mention that around that same time I started running slowly, I also decided to stop wearing my ear buds. Partly for safety, partly for something different. I still play music softly on my my iPhone speaker, listening to my go-to background ambient music, Hammock, on shuffle while the MapMyRun informs me every 1/4 mile of my overall pace, which on the “easy” days I try to sustain at that 11:00/mile pace.

It’s a learning process. But I am noticing more around me. Hearing more around me. So many birds singing, squawking, yammering. And I’m at a better pace to take it all in.

Summer Reading (and Writing)–Reflections

A month ago I wrote about my summer reading and writing plans, mentioning that I was working my way through the Norton Anthology of Contemporary Poetry and also aiming to revise 5 poems a week. Because the summer class I’m teaching begins next week, I thought I’d offer a recap on how my plans have fared.

Regarding the reading, I’m on page 650-something of the anthology, and I’m optimistic I’ll finish it before my fall semester begins. In my previous post, I mentioned one of my “discoveries” (amidst the other poets I was already familiar with). I would have to say that my “surprise” during June has been Sylvia Plath. I’ve taught a few of her poems before (“Daddy” and “Metaphor”), and these were in the anthology, but I encountered so many poems new to me. As I read her work, I was struck mostly by her skill with figurative language. In “Blackberrying,” she describes a flock of crows as “bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky.” Upon first reading this line, I decided to memorize it, feeling compelled to do so.

Other “discoveries” have been Ted Hughes, Geoffey Hill, Wole Soyinka, Okot P’Bitek, and Amiri Baraka. The work of these poets amazed me, as well as did the more familiar work of Mark Strand, Thom Gunn, Gary Snyder, and Adrienne Rich. My list of poets to read continues to grow, which I believe is one of the main objectives of an anthology. I definitely plan to read more Plath.

Regarding my writing, I have made significant progress on my goal, having revised nearly 40 poems since mid-May. Most of the revisions are a part of my working manuscript, Your 21st-Century Prayer Life. The bulk of revisions were from first-draft to second-draft stage, and I revised a few from second-draft to third-draft stage. The next part of the project involves determining which poems stay in the manuscript and which poems don’t make the cut. The summer has also been productive on the publishing end of the manuscript. One of the poems was just published in The Cresset. Two more were just released in the July/August issue of Perspectives Journal. 

Lastly, because I’m shifting (for right now) from individual poem revisions to manuscript assembly (and re-assembly), I’m switching my writing focus to revising short stories, in preparation for teaching Creative Writing: Prose in the fall. There isn’t the hard work of starting stories from scratch, but rather the fun work of writing second drafts of 7 new short stories I wrote last fall. How many years into this writing thing and I’m finally developing a more consistent writing rhythm: poetry from January-June, fiction from July-December.