Writing Is Art

Writing is art. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, but it’s a phenomenon that I’m sure veteran writers have been dealing with for ages. What I mean when I say writing is art is that even if the writing is labeled “nonfiction,” it is a creative endeavor. It is not intended to represent the whole truth, nor can it. It is a slice of life, a snapshot, one angle on the truth in any given moment. That is not to say nonfiction writing is a lie – it’s not! But it is a piece of writing. It is not meant to convey the totality of the feelings and intentions of the writer.

writing is artNeither should the writer attempt to explain, justify, or soften the writing. This can be very slippery territory indeed. I’ve never published anything I regret, but I do wish I hadn’t answered questions about some of my pieces, and I have vowed never to do it again. Once, after reading a poem I’d placed in a lit journal, a well-meaning relative asked, “Was this about so-and-so?” She already knew who the poem was about, I’m sure, because enough of the details were recognizable. So the question caught me off guard and I answered, “Yes.”

“I thought so!” She sounded pleased – she’d solved a puzzle. She knew the inside story.  And I instantly regretted affirming her suspicions – because the poem didn’t tell the whole truth. It was only one piece, one facet. If you read that poem and thought, “This is what Jennifer thinks about so-and-so,” you’d be wrong. Did the poem represent a thought I’d had once about so-and-so? Sure. A recurring thought, even. A poetic thought. But it wasn’t the complete story. A poem can’t be the complete story. It’s a poem.  Continue reading

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Hashtag Hysteria, or #YouDontNeedAHashtagForEverything, or Do You Know What Hashtags Are Actually For?

Dear beloved social media friends,

Can I call you my friends?  I’ve never met some of you, but I feel like I know you intimately.  You show me photos of your sushi and take me with you on your family’s travels.  I know where you work and what cocktail you’re sipping after hours.  You even confide in me when you’re mad at someone (although sometimes you’re quite cryptic about who that someone might be).

hashtag definition

Source: Oxford Dictionaries (www.oxforddictionaries.com/us definition/american_english/hashtag)

Because I’ve come to care about you through our frequent exchanges of miscellany and minutia, I’m writing to inform you of a worrisome trend I’ve become aware of lately: the overuse, misuse, and obscenely liberal application of hashtags in any and all social media communiqués.

Let me explain what hashtags are supposed to be for.  They are to connect similar threads so that we can follow a specific topic. For example, I might post something about ObamaCare and include the hashtags #ObamaCare #HealthCare #HeathInsurance.  But wait, I wouldn’t do that.  That’s too political.  More realistically, I might post something about kittens.  In my post, I might include the hashtag #Kittens, so that other kitten aficionados can find my post.

This is how hashtags were intended to be used, but they’ve morphed into something else entirely.  Now, they seem to have become an excuse to shout out random proclamations, like some kind of social media Tourette’s.  Example: I just made a batch of chocolate chip cookies!  Woot!  Woot!   They are delicious!  #Yummy!! #JustLikeMomsCookies!! #ChocolateAfterMidnight!!   Or, another example:  I spent my entire morning waiting for the cable guy.  #FourHourWindowMyAss  #AwfulService  #Frustrated!!!!!  (Quite often, the perpetrators guilty of peppering their posts with useless hashtags are the same people who abuse the exclamation point.  In fact, that would make for an interesting study: hashtag overuse correlated with the frequency of exclamation points.)

It’s an alarming trend.  People are even using hashtags in places where they aren’t functional (i.e., not clickable), like in blog articles and text messages.  What do they mean?   #NotSureWhatThatsSupposedToDo

I fear that if this continues, we’ll lose sight of what hashtags were actually intended for.  We won’t be employing them to connect related threads; rather, we’ll forget how to construct a coherent sentence altogether and be reduced to disjointed shout-outs of single words and short phrases. #StopTheMadness!!!!

Friends, I implore you, please utilize discretion with your hashtags.  While they are useful, and admittedly they’re trendy and cute (and everyone agrees you look super-cool when you use them), they are in danger of becoming degraded into nonsense.  Here’s a helpful pointer: if you can’t click on your hashtag and find any posts other than your own (or, furthermore, if your hashtag isn’t clickable at all), it’s probably not relevant.  To anything.

With warmest wishes for healthy hashtag use,

#Jennifer 

Ready. Set. Write! (week #5 for me)

My writing theme for this week: back to the notebook.

Ready Set Write!1.  How I did on last week’s goals:

I abandoned them and worked on something else instead, and I totally don’t regret it because I got over a huge hurdle with another WiP.

2.  My goal(s) for this week:

Write a chapter of the new thing (Is it a book? A collection of essays?  A novella? Only time will tell.) and work on Where I Write.

3.  A favorite line from my story OR one word/phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised:

On a Wednesday afternoon, she asks me to fetch her rings in their little box from the bedroom. They are too big for her now, so she isn’t wearing them. She shows me the different ones, telling me which is which, although I already know. She wonders if she should give me a particularly special one now. I’ve always coveted that ring, but I want to wait. I’m not ready to take Mama’s rings.

4.  The biggest challenge I faced this week (ex. finding time to write):

Attention Deficit Disorder

5.  Something I love about my WiP.

I’ve finally given myself permission to write it.

Ready. Set. Write! (week #4 for me)

As a monumental improvement over last week, I’m actually remembering to post this on Monday.

Ready Set Write!1.  How I did on last week’s goals:

I did okay. Would have liked to put a bit more time in, but I made a lot of progress with Where I Write.

2.  My goal(s) for this week:

Get Where I Write into submittable form.  Period.  Write another blog entry.

3.  A favorite line from my story OR one word/phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised:

She wants me to tell you that for as long as I can remember, I have written every chance I get: at school during recess; in the back seat of our family car on the long drive to Yellowstone; in the bathroom through a thick haze of red wine while my boyfriend slept; in the fluorescent-sharpened break room at work.   Tell them, she urges.  Tell them how the only thing that mattered was your writing.

4.  The biggest challenge I faced this week (ex. finding time to write):

Lack of energy.

5.  Something I love about my WiP.

That this week it feels more authentic.

Ready. Set. Write! (week #3 for me)

I cannot believe I forgot to do this yesterday.  Well, yes, actually, I can.  I can forget just about anything on a Monday.

Ready Set Write!1.  How I did on last week’s goals:

Great, actually!  Blog entry – check.  Where I Write – coming along!  Thoughts – marginally organized, but congealing.

2.  My goal(s) for this week:

Get Where I Write into submittable form, or at least one revision away.

3.  A favorite line from my story OR one word/phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised:

I write in the shade of restless eucalyptus trees with their strands of peeling bark.  I write their dusky, pungent scent.  I write from the bottom of my grandparents’ swimming pool where I scrape my nose learning to dive the summer of my ninth year.  At night I write from the stars of Orion’s belt, the first constellation I can name.

4.  The biggest challenge I faced this week (ex. finding time to write):

Distractions!  Weird interpersonal crap (which I seldom have to deal with) that had to be dealt with. Not exactly drama, but close to it.

5.  Something I love about my WiP.

That I can still surprise myself when I write.

CASH GIFTING AND BARBECUE SAUCE: On becoming a “real” writer

A wise friend once told me that I can discover what I want in life by paying attention to what I envy in others. So, when I ordered the Great American Poetry 2005 anthology from Amazon and felt a pang of resentment upon reading what I considered to be an inferior poem, I realized an important truth about myself: I secretly wanted to write and publish. Perhaps I wouldn’t be so jealous of these supposedly paltry poets if I were sharing my own writing with people.

getting paid to writeMy first attempt at becoming a “real writer” was clumsy and misdirected. I responded to a Craigslist ad offering money for SEO (search engine optimization) Internet articles, which needed to conform to strict guidelines (2% keyword enriched, 400 to 600 words long, and 60% original with the keyword in the title). I treated the articles as writing exercises and made each 100% original. I googled statistics and vetted sources. Although I relished my newfound status as a “professional” writer, the novelty of the articles quickly wore off, and churning out 20 pieces on a single keyword became tedious at best. After being assigned the keyword “barbecue sauce,” and then later “cash gifting,” I decided that perhaps I needed to expand my horizons. (The prospect of writing ten articles about a popular condiment and a notorious scam can do that to a person.)  Continue reading

Ready. Set. Write! (week #2 for me)

Back again keepin’ it real, folks!  I did okay this week – couldn’t have done better considering all I had on my plate, but I’m really, really trying to fix that so I eliminate the worst of my writing impediments and always have time for my creative endeavors.  They are not, after all, indulgences.  They are as essential to my well-being as the protein shake I had at 10 am this morning.

Ready Set Write!1.  How I did on last week’s goals:

Like I said, I did okay.  I covered a coworker’s vacation at work, and she apparently does the work of three people, so sleep was scarce and spare time was scarcer.  Still, I submitted to the Ashland poem contest thingy (took longer than I thought because their website was squirrelly) and wrote a blog article that (hopefully) doesn’t suck, but I made zero progress on Where I Write.  No worries – onward and upward!

2.  My goal(s) for this week:

Work on Where I Write and start organizing my thoughts about the nonfiction piece I want to write about trauma.  And, write another non-suckish blog entry.

3.  A favorite line from my story OR one word/phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised:

Although I relished my newfound status as a “professional” writer, the novelty of the [Internet] articles quickly wore off, and churning out 20 pieces on a single keyword became tedious at best. After being assigned the keyword “barbecue sauce,” and then later “cash gifting,” I decided that perhaps I needed to expand my horizons. (The prospect of writing ten articles about popular condiment or a notorious scam can do that to a person.)

4.  The biggest challenge I faced this week (ex. finding time to write):

An average of four hours of sleep per night and the workload of four people.

5.  Something I love about my WiP.

It’s the absolute truth, and writing it is f***ing cathartic.  Oh, wait, this is the Naked Notebook – it’s already R-rated.  Fucking cathartic.

The Language of Death (or, Why Can’t We Talk About What Actually Happens?)

Since my mom died, I’ve noticed a phenomenon: people avoid the word “death” and all its conjugates.  They pull on latex gloves of language and hide behind germ filter masks of syntax, treating the subject as if it were contagious, substituting cumbersome IMG_20130404_165651_005euphemisms like “passed away,” “passed,” or the clinically sterile preference of health care practitioners, “expired.”

These people who recoil when I say “my mother died” are probably the same ones (and I’m assuming here, because I’ve never broached the subject with them) who regard the funeral practices of yesteryear as morbid.  I admit even I find it a little distasteful to think of a deceased (dead) relative lying in state in a flower-bedecked parlor for the days leading up to the funeral, allowing family members to bear eyewitness to the various stages of decay and putrefaction that naturally commence postmortem.  But aren’t we modern-day mourners truly the more morbid, so afraid are we of the eventuality of death that we cannot even speak of it directly? Continue reading

First Friday Freewrite #60: “In cars…”

Welcome back to the First Friday Freewrite! 

Here’s how it works: I post a “JUMP LINE,” a short phrase that will serve as a writing prompt, each first Friday of the month.

YOU put pen to paper and write. (I’ll do it, too, of course.)  Don’t think.  Don’t cross out.  (That is wise advice borrowed from Natalie Goldberg in Wild First-Friday-FreewriteMind.)  Just start with the prompt and see where it takes you.

Then POST YOUR RESPONSE as a comment.  (Just click the comment bubble  to the right of the post title to leave a reply.)

Today’s jump line:  “In cars…”

Happy Writing!

First Friday Freewrite #59: “Waiting…”

Welcome back to the First Friday Freewrite! 

Here’s how it works: I post a “JUMP LINE,” a short phrase that will serve as a writing prompt, each first Friday of the month.

YOU put pen to paper and write. (I’ll do it, too, of course.)  Don’t think.  Don’t cross out.  (That is wise advice borrowed from Natalie Goldberg in Wild First-Friday-FreewriteMind.)  Just start with the prompt and see where it takes you.

Then POST YOUR RESPONSE as a comment.  (Just click the comment bubble  to the right of the post title to leave a reply.)

Today’s jump line:  “Waiting…”

Happy Writing!