Deadlines — More than nightmares


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about deadlines and realizing that I’m the kind of person that needs them to function well. Many of us can remember the pressure of final exams, those dreaded paper deadlines, that feeling of a clock ticking in the back of your mind, morning, noon and night (which back in the day, may have had something to do with actual ticking clocks as well as excessive doses of TAB, but, whatever!) Yes, those kind of deadlines can and do become the stuff of nightmares as we grow older. But other deadlines don’t seem to enter my sleep. For example, if I’m in need of rediscovering my dining room table top, it’s time to invite someone over for dinner in a week or so. April 15 is a classic deadline (and maybe a nightmare unto itself) – we all know what it means and the majority of us meet or beat it. But deadlines don’t have to be just the stuff of nightmares. Deadlines are terrific motivators.

Since leaving teaching over ten years ago though, I’ve lived without frequent deadlines — no more grades due by midterms and quarter’s end; no more parent-teacher conferences; no more weekly meetings to run and respond to. I worked efficiently with those deadlines. I got a whole lot done in a day and think I made a positive contribution to the lives of my students and colleagues.

Without consistent deadlines, I’ve had to find ways to create some for myself, especially for my writing. I’m in a writing group that meets about every two weeks for the academic year and is sometimes on, sometimes not, in summers. I find that group works as a good deadline for me to aim toward with new work. Also, I’ve used writing contests as deadlines, and deadlines of favorite journals to submit to are often motivators for me.

Some of the staff of the Lyon Review have been wondering about incorporating deadlines into our submission calendar. We are wondering if that might motivate some of you to submit who haven’t yet. Do you think you would be more or less likely to submit if you knew there was a due date to work toward? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

What’s the “true ground of all fiction” for you?


“…The advice is a call to empathy, the ultimate act of the imagination, and the true ground of all fiction. All characters are born of this effort to be another person. And its success is routed in the grounded self.”

~Siri Hustvedt in A Plea for Eros: essays


I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy lately because of my second novel draft. That novel (unlike novel #1 which is undergoing its seventh revision), has only been drafted once. In rereading it and considering where the draft needed to move, I realized that the story was begging for something I had been afraid to write…. a female character needed to live through an experience with her child which seemed unlike anything I could relate to. But, notice the word “seemed”.

As writers, we are blessed with vivid imaginations and I was stopping myself from diving in, from stepping into that woman’s shoes, from becoming my character as much as I could. I’m going to be keeping a journal as her for a while until I’m ready to return to that novel. Until I can feel what she might be feeling. For, as Robert Frost says:

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.”

Where is the “true ground of all fiction” for you? Is it somewhere other than empathy?

Happy #writing.

What’s the hardest thing for you about writing or the writing life?


The hardest thing…

Sandi’s great post regarding National Novel Writing Month got me thinking about how my experience with NANOWRIMO in 2008 helped jumpstart my writing after my cancer experience. Lately, I’ve been struggling with many of the valuable things I had gained from NANOWRIMO, the biggest for me being dedicated daily writing where I shut off the internal editor and simply cranked words for first drafts. Recently, I’ve slowed down again, agonizing over every word…. for me, that’s fine in revising, but torture and unproductive in first drafts.

The hardest thing…

Two years ago, I attended two creative writing classes at Marquette University, taught by Larry Watson, author of Montana, 1948 (a lovely, lovely book now taught in many classrooms). I was in the audience recently for the launch of his latest book, American Boy, and was very struck by his answer to the question: What’s hardest for you about writing?  “Sentences. Getting it right.”

For me, at this moment in my life, that’s not the hardest thing about writing. For me, the hardest thing is shutting off the fretting I do about multiple family members’ issues — the fretting creates a static in my head that makes it truly difficult for me to focus on my writing — and, for some reason, I seem able to write non-fiction, but the static creates difficulty for me with my fiction writing. And, that leads to my greatest fear:

Let’s hear from you, MHCers. What’s the the hardest thing for you about writing and/or the writing life?