Ripening tomatoes and the approach of the Autumn Equinox have turned my thoughts to gleaning, reminding me that during the weekend of September 14-15, 2012, I gleaned as much writing advice as I dispensed.
I was invited to Wyoming’s Equality State Book Festival, held at Casper College.
First, I presented a craft talk, “What We Do With Our Days,” centered on the use of a time monitor to analyze and change how we spend time, finding more for writing.
My second presentation was a reading primarily from Dirt Songs: A Plains Duet, my new book of poems with Twyla Hansen, published in 2011 by The Backwaters Press. I also read and talked about a couple of selections from No Place Like Home: Notes From a Western Life, published in 2009 by University of Nevada Press.
On the second day, I was moderator for a publishing panel starring Annette Chaudet, owner/publisher of Pronghorn Press, Greybull, WY, and Nancy Curtis, owner/publisher of High Plains Press, Glendo, WY.
Finally, I participated in a nature panel with Pat Frolander of Sundance, Wyoming’s poet laureate; writer and photographer Cat Urbigkit of Pinedale, WY (paradisesheep.com); her newest book is Shepherd of Coyote Rocks. California writer Rebecca O’Connor (rebeccakoconnor.com), whose newest book is Lift (Red Hen Press), about her experiences during a year of training a peregrine falcon, was the fourth member of our panel. Moderator Holly Wendt and questions from the audience kept the discussion moving along-- and that’s all I can say about it. Being inside a discussion leaves no room for note-taking. But our audience was so attentive one of the festival’s organizers had to remind us time was up and herd us out the door.
Still, I gleaned plenty from the festival and here are some examples.
I attended Rebecca’s session, “Narrative Through Modern Journaling.” Rebecca keeps journals online, making use of her website and of blogging. I blog, but the idea of keeping an online journal terrifies me with its lack of privacy so I wanted to see how she used the Internet in her journal-keeping.
“Why blog?” She asks-- and her answers are several: to keep a record; to gauge interest in a writing project; to work on your discipline; and “to discover the story in your story.” She adds, “The little details are the things you forget,” -- and those are precisely the elements that make a story come to life. And I agree that a writer may begin thinking the story will take a particular direction but discover as it expands that it has other ideas.
Writing observed details immediately places the material where you can return to it a year or more later and see it as fresh as the day you wrote. To add zing, she includes photographs with her posts. Many of her blogs later turn into essays, but she says, “If you’re going to blog instead of writing, don’t do it.”
Rebecca likes Twitter as a great place to make your writing stronger by honing it to the required 140 characters. Great writing exercise, I think, and resolve to try some twitter-like journal entries without the benefit (or peril) of the Internet.
Flickr, Rebecca says, is a “great tool for building a photo journal” and feeds her writing. “If you’re looking for a photo, you are honing your writer’s eye, focusing on beautiful things.” She adds, “You can unstick yourself, discovering the unexpected in the camera’s lens.”
Tumblr, she says, is not a full blog but more like a scrapbook with bits and snippets, easy to use. And if you’re not comfortable with the conversations that Twitter inspires, she adds, Tumblr may be for you; it allows short comments.
I’m not likely to begin doing my journaling online-- that just seems way too public to me-- but I can see the advantages to accompanying online journal entries with photographs. I take pictures too, but it’s a fairly laborious process to process the finished pictures and put them together with my journal entries from the same day. I can see Rebecca’s method being considerably more efficient.
Rebecca also recommends therumpus.net, a “warm and safe” online environment in which to be published. One benefit is that the site “culls out the nastiness;” only positive comments are allowed. “Be the comment you want to leave,” says a website heading.
Rebecca also recommends Spotify, a free music service, for building a playlist of music to write to; “you have to listen to commercials,” she adds. She’s working on a book set partly in 1958, so has compiled a playlist of songs from that era.
She also warns about addiction; it’s easy to waste a day online. To prevent time-wasting forays, you can pay for Freedom, a site that cuts you off the Internet for a specified length of time. (Or you can set a kitchen timer or the alarm on your phone.)
“Remember,” said Rebecca, “the story you think you are writing is not the story you are writing.” I was also pleased to hear her say that when writing comments on other websites, “Encourage each other. Be kind, bighearted, give virtual hugs.” There’s no reason to be unpleasant; what you sow comes back to you.
She furnishes links to her work on each of these sites plus her Facebook page on her web page; click on “community.”
Other sites she recommended are Morning Pages Julie Cameron, which recommends writing three pages a day by hand. Written Kitten provides you with a new picture of a kitten when you write a certain amount. Write or Die: if you don’t keep writing, your work is erased.
And the final and perhaps most important part of Rebecca’s advice: “Remember it’s out there forever.” Be careful what you write. She doesn’t write about relationships, personal or private things people said or did. I find this final advice to be excellent, of course: but also inhibiting.
In my private journal I can write anything. Of course, what I write is “out there” in that journal-- but I keep my journals tucked into pockets, purses and private shelves in my office where they are unlikely to be read by anyone but me as long as I live.
So consider the advantages of the online journal: all that spontaneity, the vivid color of photographs. Perhaps you’ll choose to use versions of both the paper and online journals.
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For More Information:
Rebecca K. O'Connor's website
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