Recently I passed a milestone of sorts after I wrote and posted on this blog for the 700th time. It’s even more significant to me because it took me five years to get to my first 500 posts, which means I’ve kept to my average of about 100 posts a year, or posting roughly every three days for the past seven years.

Seven years! If this blog was a person, it would be in second grade by now. This year, I’m aiming for 150 posts a year, which might mean I hit 1000 posts sometime in 2016. 1000! Maybe I’ll throw my little blog a birthday party or something.

I think the best part to me is that I see no end in sight; I’m very proud of the best work I’ve done here, but I’m most proud of the growth blogging has inspired in me, both as a writer and as a person. I want to keep reflecting and evolving, and I know of no better tool for that than blogging.

NaBloPost more?

NaBloPoMo: Glorious Madness

NaBloPoMo: Glorious Madness (Photo credit: cizauskas)

Sometimes, it’s worth making the attempt even if you know you might fail.

No, I’m not talking about the amazing Auburn/Alabama game last week, though many of my relatives probably still are (War Eagle!). What I mean is that sometimes you have to set a high bar, because then even if you don’t reach it, you’ll end up in a better position than where you started.

I attempted NaBloPoMo last month and did not come close to succeeding; I’ve attempted it before and am not sure that I’ve ever succeeded, and I’ve also attempted it’s better known sibling, NaNoWriMo and failed at that too. I’ve dropped out of knitting classes, I’ve not gotten jobs I really wanted, I’ve had essays and poems rejected time and again, and I’ve cooked some truly inedible meals. But I’m a better teacher, a better writer, and a better cook because of it. And I’ve learned that knitting just might not be for me (it’s a spatial relations and eye/hand coordination thing)

I posted 14 blog posts in November, which is about half as many as I had hoped to post. But how many would I have posted without the nudge? How many of those pieces helped me think more clearly, or struck a chord with others? How would I be feeling about my writing if I hadn’t pushed myself forward?

Feeling confident enough to take a risk is an important quality, one I’m trying to cultivate in myself just as much as I try to inspire it in my students and instill in my own children. Realizing what you do gain from the process of failing has been a good way for me to get more and more comfortable with taking the chance at all.

Getting Drafty

So far in April, I’ve written sixteen poems, following the prompts given at Poetic Asides for the 2012 Poem-A-Day Challenge, and including an additional tanka challenge.

Now, have I written one each day? No, there have definitely been points where I lagged behind and then caught up, drafting several poems in a day. I’ve got one to go right now, actually, a prompt from a few days ago involving the idea of shadows and shade.

Have I written sixteen good poems? Definitely not; most are first drafts, and some I knew were not very good, even as I wrote them down.

So what is the value, then, of a challenge like this? I would say part of the value is that you push yourself to pile up a lot of shitty first drafts, as Anne Lamott wrote in her wonderful book on writing, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (please buy a copy of that if you don’t already have it, whether you use my link or not). The value of the shitty first draft is overcoming procrastination and perfectionism and getting something down on paper without worrying about whether it’s good yet or not. According to Lamott, every good writer has to do these drafts before you get to the good drafts, and I think I’m not alone in finding this reassuring. There’s a version of this sentiment at work in National Novel Writing Month as well, where they value “enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft” and say, “Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.”

Will I revise each and every one of these drafts further? No, probably not. But I can tell already that some of them have potential as ideas, and I know also that some of them have some good lines, or at least the germ of a good line, and any poet knows the value of one great line.

I think that once I’m done this challenge, I’ll have some good candidates for further revision, and some recoverable lines that I’ll plant in new poems. But more importantly, I’ll have gained some momentum through carving out time to regularly engage the poetic gear of my writer’s mind, and that will surely benefit me.

Writing on Values

Обкладинка книги "Над прірвою у житі"

Image via Wikipedia

As any teacher knows, the best professional development either introduces us to a new idea/text or gives us an easily implementable classroom idea or assignment. I’ve had great luck over the years using teacher-bloggers as my own personal learning network, and a recent interaction with That Writing Lady is a great example.

TWL stopped by my blog recently and left a comment, and as usual, I returned the visit to find her blog. The entry that caught my attention was one titled A 1-Hour Assignment that Stops Kids from Failing–great title, right? Upon reading further, I found the prompt really inspiring for use with my current unit on The Catcher in the Rye. Holden is obsessed with honesty throughout the book, one of the values listed in TWL’s example, and I thought it might be interesting for my students to reflect on their own values while also getting some practice with personal essay writing.

Here’s the prompt I came up with, adapted from TWL, and gave to my students:

Part of Holden’s struggle in The Catcher in the Rye is that he sees examples of cruelty and insincerity all around him, and cannot understand why people treat each other this way. While he himself is also flawed, Holden’s obsession with morals and values is part of what makes him distinctive as a character, and his inability to reconcile how people should behave and how they actually do contributes to his growing instability in the book.

What is an important value that you have? (Examples of values: honesty, compassion, kindness, teamwork, self-respect, faith, perseverance, loyalty, forgiveness, leadership, patience, creativity, service). Why do you think that this value is important? Be specific and detailed; give examples of how and when you think people should demonstrate this value, or use stories from your own life to illustrate the importance of this value or how it has affected you. You may use “I” when writing to describe your own beliefs.

This writing will be graded, both for your use of detail and for sentence construction, organization and grammar, so leave yourself some time to review your work before submission. Brainstorming for a few minutes and making a rough outline would also be good uses of your time. You will have 50 minutes to write.

I’ve gotten the first batch back so far and I’m so pleased I tried this out! Once again, my teacher-blogger PLN really delivered, and I’m hoping someone may benefit from this entry as well, fueling the fire of virtual collaboration. Thanks again, TWL!

52 Songs, 52 Stories

Someday, if I’m feeling ambitious and ready for a challenge, I’m going to do a version of this amazing project: 52 Songs, 52 Stories. The blogger chose a song each week, posted a video for that song and wrote a very short story inspired by the song. He was inspired by several projects, including A Month in Music, where a blogger played his music collection continuously, on shuffle, for 30 days and wrote about what he heard each day. If I did a similar year-long project, I would not only write flash fiction, but also flash creative nonfiction, riffing on the songs I chose but also soliciting reader requests, I think.

This is the kind of inspiration, however, that I think would be easily adaptable, as writing prompts for poems or any short pieces of writing, especially for people like me who think about their identities or periods in their lives in terms of music.


WordPress Administration

Image via Wikipedia

Like Anjali, I recently passed my 500 post milestone for this blog, which I first posted in on July 12, 2007. That also means that my blog will turn five this summer, the same year that my children and my marriage turn ten.

That first month, I had stopped posting in an old personal blog I maintained primarily to keep in touch with family and friends, back in the old pre-Facebook days and started this shiny new blog, though not yet under my own name. It was my first time using WordPress, and I had decided to make myself a blog/website where I could host the writing clips I was slowly but surely amassing. Like Anjali, I wanted a blog that was much more about myself as a writer than as a mother. I was starting to think more about my voice as a writer and my online presence, and I wanted to start fresh.

Now, looking back, I think this blog made another shift that paralleled my career shifting, as I moved from a writer who taught adjunct classes to a teacher who tries to make time for writing. I still post about wonderful lovely girls, but the focus of my professional and creative life has shifted, and so has my blog.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: maintaining the blogging habit has been one of the best decisions I’ve made in the past five years, as a writer and in terms of personal growth and health.  I simply can’t imagine my life without it.

Thanks so much for coming along on this journey with me; I hope you’ll stick around for the next five years.

Writing Goals: Jumpstart Edition

One technique that works for me in goal-setting is making sure I have some concrete tasks to check off as I make progress, in addition to larger conceptual themes. In keeping with my writing jumpstart program, here are my specific writing goals for 2012:

If you notice, there’s a pattern here having to do with submissions, my most-dreaded portion of the writing life. Trying to do the whole tackling-it-head-on thing.

Just as with my other resolutions, I’ll be posting when I have success in meeting these goals too.

Jumpstarting My Writing

The keyboard of the Malling-Hansen writing bal...

Image via Wikipedia

As important as writing is to me, and as central as it is to my identity and conception of myself, when something has to drop from my daily juggling act, too often, it’s writing. So for 2012, I’m determined to jumpstart my trajectory as a writer and poet. This is a broader goal, not a concrete one, which means I need to think creatively about how to accomplish it and what that might look like, and what the steps toward success might be.

Thanks to my poet friend Christine Stewart, I’ve got some specific ways to get started on reinvigorating my writing routines. As always, Chris has a pile of fun, creative and reflective ways to start thinking about this, so I’m feeling inspired to get started. Right now, I’m thinking my theme will be “commitment,” in line with my determination to shuffle writing higher on my priority list as often as I can.

Another interesting exercise I’m planning to try is inspired by this post of Penelope Trunk’s on things she wishes she had written, and what that told her not only about her dreams for her writing career, but about the accompanying emotions each evoked in her. As provocative and disturbing as Trunk can often be, I also find her writing to frequently be insightful and inspiring, and this entry was a great example. I often think I’d like to have written some of the many amazing Dear Sugar columns, for example (the one on your invisible inner terrible someone blows me away every time I read it), but I don’t aspire to being an advice columnist, per se, so what is it exactly about Sugar’s writing that I’d like to emulate? I think it’s not only her eloquence, but her candor and compassion, so how can I incorporate those threads into my work?

Finally, I sat down and drafted a list of specific writing goals for the year, which I’ll share in an upcoming post.  In the past, I made lists of broader goals, but I didn’t find those to be motivating as I would like, so I’m working on a specific list, as those seem to be more effective for me.

Goals and Resolutions

43 Things list - reading, before the cull

Image by pragmatic_pete via Flickr (not my list)

Two years ago, inspired by The Simple Dollar, I made a series of posts dedicated to goals of mine in the areas of blogging, writing, and personal and family life. At the end of that year, I joined 43 Things and set myself some more, from painting my staircase to writing a new poem each month, reading War and Peace and keeping a gratitude journal.

So how did I do? Well, on the 2010 goals, I made huge progress on my writing and blogging goals, but continue to struggle with personal goals like exercising and cooking healthier for my family. On the 43 Things goals, I painted my staircase and kept the gratitude journal very successfully, but never got deeper than 100 pages into War and Peace and wrote only a handful of new poems. I spent some time recently going through my goals and resolutions and added some new ones for the upcoming year; I’m PatchworkJackie there if you want to join me. Some of my goals include joining a poetry group and cleaning out my basement, as well as keeping a teaching journal, exercising twice a week and buying a chest freezer.

Trent at The Simple Dollar always takes some heat from his commenters for setting lofty goals they think he’ll never reach (losing a pound a week, finishing two novels in 2012). I sometimes think I should only set fewer, more accessible goals too, but I think it’s silly to feel ashamed of not holding up to some of your resolutions. If you only set easy goals, it’s not much of an achievement to meet them, and you won’t feel the same sense of accomplishment.

I knew a writer once who said her goal for the year was to get more rejection letters, because that would mean she was frequently sending out with her work, with great ambition.  Setting that goal ended up earning her more acceptances than she had ever received before, and I think the same theory applies to any goals.  The more you set, and the higher you aim, the more likely the odds of achieving greatness.

Here’s wishing for a 2012 full of success and adventure!

Keeping a Teaching Journal

On Twitter recently, a link to an article on keeping a teaching journal popped up, and I was instantly intrigued.

Keeping a work journal has been on my mind since I read about it while writing about my new gratitude journal habit, but I didn’t realize there was such a wealth of resources and articles on how specifically to reflect in a teaching journal. I’ve written before about how important it is to reflect on teaching, and my blogging has always been reflective, but I never want to risk my job or betray the privacy of any of my students or colleagues. Also, I like the idea of reflecting immediately after each class, even if it’s only a brief jotting down of quick impressions. When I was adjuncting and frequently teaching new classes, I used to write all my lesson plans in a notebook, and then reflect right after that class by writing a paragraph or so after I’d taught that plan. It was incredibly valuable in my growth as a new teacher, but somewhere along the way, I lost the habit.

I think I’ll try The Teacher’s Daybook, 2011-2012 Edition: Time to Teach, Time to Learn, Time to Live, because I admire Jim Burke so much and I know the earlier edition has been so popular.  I still like the idea of keeping a work journal, but that would be something I did at home, to make sure I could feel free to write in it without censoring myself.

As much as I enjoy blogging under my own name and feel it has moved me in useful directions, there’s something to be said for writing without censoring myself, not thinking of a finished product like a poem or essay, not worrying about proofreading or whether I’m expressing myself clearly, but just writing to figure things out and get the thoughts and feelings down on paper and out of my own head.  I kept diaries for much of my childhood and adolescence, lost the habit in college and graduate school, then started blogging after my girls were born.  But writing freely, the way I used to, scribbling furiously until my hand was sore?  It’s been years, and sometimes, I miss it.  I think it would help me process more about my job, and maybe more about my life along the way.