Economy with Words

Unknown 18.21.21The shortest short story is reputedly by Ernest Hemingway and it goes something like this:

For Sale.  Baby Shoes.  Never worn.

Now, you many argue that this isn’t a short story, that six words can’t possibly create a narrative.  But it does have a beginning, middle and an end.  It does raise questions and therefore has conflict.  And it does have characters – a baby and therefore parents.  What happened to them we’ll never know, because this is the kind of story where the reader gets to decide.  Yes, that’s right folks, Hemingway trusted you to decide on things for yourselves.  This is one of the great attractions of reading not only Hemingway’s work but any well crafted short story.  The writer trusts you, the reader, which means he or she can get on with the business end of the story, focus on the economy of words, a moment in time that will reveal a character and his or her situation, a dilemma or conflict that may or may not be resolved by the end.

I have started writing short stories again, after many long years of writing novels, and have recently have been drawn to flash fiction too.  This shorter form of fiction is classified as a complete story of 1,000 words or under, but competitions often ask for a smaller wordcount than that.  In the absence of a short story to submit to the Bridport Prize this year (caused by the whole character-walking-out-on-my-story drama of a few weeks ago), I considered their 250 word maximum for flash fiction.  Could I do that?  I consider myself primarily to be a novelist, with my stories having a habit of expanding beyond such tight parameters.  But this suddenly became a challenge, possibly made easier because I remembered a story from way back that could work at least as a starting point.

The story in question was already relatively short at 760 words, and was written for submission to Mslexia.   They didn’t accept it and has stayed in a folder of miscellaneous writings that I haven’t looked at in years.  In all other areas of my life I’m pretty good at chucking stuff out (I even got rid of 120 books when I moved house, which still hurts when I think about it), but when it comes to writing I’m a complete hoarder.  So I reacquainted myself with its characters and story arc, then started whittling, cutting and cutting until it was a formless collection of sentences. Deleting a word became unreasonably enjoyable and finding one word to replace three even more so.  A novelist?  Me?  You must have mistaken me for somebody else.

Finally I went about reshaping these words, just the essence of a narrative now, into something cohesive again.  The finished piece was ok, a perfectly adequate story, but adequate won’t do for a competition entry, so I started doing some research, reading previous Bridport winners and looking at the various flash fiction websites.  I’d set my story out in a conventional way with paragraphs, speech marks for dialogue, etc, but there were many stories that looked more like prose poems, with no line breaks and using italics for speech.  I didn’t think this would work for my piece but thought I’d give it a try for experimental purposes.  And the result was quite astonishing.  The combination of continuous prose with integrated dialogue created a story that was so much more fluid and immersive, almost as though the reader was wrapped up in the first person voice. I also found that using a line break for the final line added emphasis, where before there was a risk it would just peter out.  The story has now become a distillation of its formal self and is a submission-friendly 242 words long.

So here are the writing lessons I’ve learned this week:

  1. I’m not just a novelist – with the right mind-set I can do short and concise too.
  2. Being a writing hoarder is good – if the time wasn’t right for it before, it might be sometime in the future.
  3. Do research, learn from others, experiment.
  4. Never, ever, get rid of books.

My submission has now flown through the ether to the Bridport Prize cyber in-tray, but here is one of my favourite flash fiction stories from my research.  It won first prize in a competition run for National Flash-Fiction Day on June 22nd:

A Handful, by Tim Stevenson

I thought he’d been in the river for a year, down amongst the roots and tumbling stones.
My mother told me otherwise.
On a bookshelf something remained.
She’d taken it from the crematorium, she said, and he’s as useful around the house now as images 18.21.18he ever was alive.
I wondered about the jar of grey ashes, which bit of him hadn’t made it to the river: an ear, a nose, the hand that clenched his pipe?
Incomplete, my father flows away, and somewhere a fisherman eats his catch, picks grit from his teeth and thinks, inexplicably, about tobacco.

The Changing Landscape

This week saw my last day on campus for this academic year.  Assignments are handed in, marking is well under way, and I found a lovely thank you card from a third year student on my desk.  There was an unexpected bonus too.  I received a nomination for a teaching award, which felt particularly special because the nominations were made by students.  A presentation was held yesterday afternoon at Main House where there was champagne and strawberries, and the top award of Teacher of the Year went to the wonderful Nicola Presley, who was so shocked she did a great impersonation of a teary Hollywood actress. Congratulations Nic!

I always have mixed feelings about the last week.  No teaching means I’ll be able to get my own writing done, but I enjoy meeting with my students, talking about writing and books, sometime debating, sometimes struggling alongside them to understand the complexities of what we want to learn as writers.  I will miss this community.  I always do. images So as I left campus yesterday I took a last walk around to absorb that sense of community, my final fix until the autumn.  By then the building work will have moved on apace, with new classrooms and offices due for completion this time next year.  The landscape of the campus is changing, with the Castle, the Gatehouse and the cows grazing on the hillside just some of the things that will remain constant, the reliable observers.

The landscape of my teaching has changed this year too, with involvement in the Teaching Writing module — yes, that’s teaching about teaching.  I’ve found that by going back to look at the theory and practice (essential if I was going to keep up with the students), I’ve had to review the way I approach classes, trying to make seminars more varied and lectures more entertaining (and informative, of course).  This is all good.  It makes me feel like I know stuff.

And in a few short weeks I’ll be back to my own writing, another changing landscape, with a more focused return to short story writing, maybe even flash fiction too, a website to create, and the whole ebook project waiting in my in-tray like a monster of many guises.  Writing this blog has already changed the way I write.  The discipline of producing a coherent piece each week seems to have created a rolling thought process, with ideas constantly being sparked, not just for subjects to post about but creative work too.  My notebook, and my calendar, have never been so busy.

I’ve talked about my schedule before, how I obsess over deadlines and berate myself if I don’t meet them.  I used to think it was the antithesis of creativity to set down week by week, month by month what I wanted to achieve.  I mean, I’m a creative person aren’t I?

6c_mansfield_diaryShouldn’t I be going with the flow, letting my mind expand beyond the little confining squares of calendar days?  Then I started reading Virginia Woolf’s diaries (a dog-eared find at a second-hand book stall), and found she was constantly thinking about her schedule, the weeks she’ll be editing, the weeks set aside for articles and reviews, the self-imposed deadline for finishing that first draft.  So this made me relax (if giving yourself a strict schedule can be called relaxing). If it’s good enough for VW it’s good enough for me.

And so the year moves on, with the future holding achievement and failure in varying degrees because that is the stuff of life and without it we’d be lost.

As the great Bob Dylan once sang, ‘…you better start swimmin’ / or you’ll sink like a stone / For the times they are a changin.’

The Science of Mooning Around

MV5BODk2MDc4MDk2OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTcyODY1OA@@._V1_SY317_CR1,0,214,317_Last week I watched a thrillingly inventive film called Holy Motors.  It follows a day in the life of an actor as he’s driven to various jobs, but when he’s working the cameras are hidden and nothing is as it seems.  From the strange bearded character who ate fingers, to Kylie Minogue singing a song before doing something a tad destructive, to the actor driving his daughter home, you’re never sure what’s real and what’s just another acting job.  Now, I realise some people may find this lack of plot and randomness of events frustrating, but I was immersed in its visually striking scenes and unpredictability, and by the end I was left wondering about the writer/director Leos Carax.  He clearly has a mind that pushes the boundaries of creativity, and I’d love to sit him down with a cappuccino (and probably a slice of cake) and ask him about the way he works, how he conceives his ideas and then allows them to grow in such unexpected directions.

I’ve always had a fascination with the creative process, not just the way we build stories, create characters and structure, but also how our mind works in order to make up these stories in the first place.  The general view is that our subconscious is a mysterious and intangible creature, often linked to the ethereal ‘muse’ and a sense that we are not in control of what happens within the deep pockets of our brain.

However.  Anyone who has been working as a creative person over a long period of time will know this isn’t entirely true.  There are practical ways to harness your thoughts, things people do every day that engage with creativity without being aware it is even happening.  For me personally, if I have a scene I need to work out or a character that is being evasive, my subconscious will figure it out while I’m driving the car (but it has to be a journey that takes at least 30 minutes), or a long bath (again, 30 minutes).  These activities for that length of time work a treat.  For others it is smoking (not recommended), walking, ironing, train journeys, gardening, vacuuming… the list is pretty endless.  The common thread is that the body is either doing very little, or a repetitive task that requires little thought.  Alarming, especially when driving, but heck, whatever works.

And the result of all this latent brain activity?  For some reason, this is the way we make connections between ideas that are already in our subconscious.  These connections, between a problem and a solution, are what creates bright ideas.  An example of this is how themes can develop in a novel — in the first draft you are just writing the story, figuring out the plot and characters, but once that first messy draft is written, if you allow your mind to wander, to step back and let it do its own hunting, the right side of your brain, the creative side, will bring strands together you didn’t notice before, allowing you to go back and make the connections stronger, build the themes in a more purposeful way.

This may sound fanciful, mooning around all day letting my mind drift off into the ether hoping it will do random acts of kindness, and my students do look at me like I’m bonkers when I talk to them about it.  But then I’ll get a student who has tried it out and comes back so excited with the new direction it has taken her that I can see it will change the way she works.

And there is actual science behind this, honest.  Anyone who isn’t convinced should read images-1Imagine: How Creativity Works, by Jonah Lehrer.  This book starts with a quote from T.S. Eliot, in his introduction to Dante’s Inferno, ‘Hell is a place where nothing connects with nothing’.  According to Lehrer, the brain has ‘flutterings of neurons in the prefrontal cortex’, and he talks about how this can be harnessed in the pursuit of creativity.

This isn’t just relevant to people working alone like hermits, scavaging for any bit of inspiration they can find.  He also explores the benefits of working collaboratively to create original ideas, not just in the arts, but also scientific research, business and industry too.  How do you think Apple got to be so successful?  In their headquarters they’ve created spaces where staff from different areas of the business get to bump into each other, chat and mull over problems and ideas, and other spaces where they can go off and moon around when they feel like it.  This is one of the ideal scenarios for making connections in the brain and solving problems, creating solutions and coming up with inventive and exciting new products (I’m an Apple fan in case you didn’t notice).

The real mystery for me though is why everyone is so different in their methods of discovery.  Long walks don’t work for me (except as a way of turning my back on a character and hoping he gets annoyed enough to tap me on the shoulder and tell me who he is), but they might be a revelation for someone else.  You have to try things out to find out what works.  And practice too, because life has a rude way of interfering with the process, such as prodding you with a list of what you need to get at the shops for dinner, and don’t forget that brake light that needs replacing on the car.

Creativity is like any other activity – if you want to do it well, you need discipline and determination over a long period of time.

Watch Holy Motors and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

The Strange Wildness of Life

Those of you who read my last post will know I’ve been finding the balance of writing and DSCF0287 19.48.56teaching a challenge in the past few weeks.  The pace of university life is increasing and I’ve got a short story that’s fallen apart because my main character decided to go AWOL.  So it was with a sense of furtive escape that I went away last weekend to Abbey Dore Court in Herefordshire with the Wordsmiths.

It was everything I’d hoped it would be.  A houseful of dedicated writers, space to engage the imagination, no mobile signal and an enormous amount of cake.  On the journey up my main character did manage a cursory introduction, at least telling me what he does for a living, so in that symbiotic way that happens sometimes, by knowing that small piece of information about him I now feel I have a better idea of who he is as a person.  This doesn’t rewrite my story for me, but it is progress at least.  For me though, the real success of the weekend was sitting in the vast ballroom style sitting-room doing the writing exercises run by Lucy English and Rachel Bentham.  We discussed theme, plot and character, and this kick-started a story that has been bothering the back of my mind for a while.  Yes, this means I now have two incomplete stories on my laptop, but I am reassured by the fact that when I’ve finished marking they are ready and waiting for me.  Something to look forward to, a bit like a nice piece of carrot cake.

So the weekend was restful, productive and inspiring.  These interludes in the modern writing life can be rare, and have the potential to be life changing.  The first time I  experienced this was on a course with the Arvon Foundation in Devon in 2004.  Up to that date I’d been writing at home with no formal tuition, so when I was suddenly surrounded by like-minded people, talking and thinking about writing for three days, my mind was buzzing with conversations.  And I didn’t write a jot, I was too busy buzzing.  What it did make me realise was that if I was going to move forward, this was exactly what I needed.  A community of writers.

A few months later I applied to do the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, fairly confident I wouldn’t get in because I had no undergraduate degree.  I remember my interview vividly and the feeling of mortification afterwards because I’d rambled on about writing in the car in Sainsbury’s car park when I needed peace and quiet.  It didn’t seem to put them off though and they offered me a place, either in spite of or because of my loon tendencies.

I still feel the impact of the day the letter arrived even now.  My emotional reaction wasn’t just that I had the opportunity to attend one of the best postgraduate programmes in the country.  It was also a validation.  They thought I could write.  They thought I was worth the tuition.  It’s not an over statement to say I was overjoyed.  But then things went strangely out of kilter.  The date was 7th July 2005, and at lunchtime bombs were going off in London, people were dying, and my achievement felt small and cheap and guilty.  I’ve never been able to express the contradictions I felt that day, but perhaps putting these two events together in the same paragraph will go some way to reflecting the unpredictability and strange wildness of how the world looked in that moment.

Later that year I started my studies.  I found what I’d been looking for and was lucky enough to meet fellow students that I’m still in touch with today. The real privilege of course is now being able to teach there as a creative writing lecturer, and going away with the Wordsmiths is a part of that.

All this happened because in 2004 I went on an Arvon course and saw what I needed to do.

So if you ever get the opportunity to go on a writing retreat/weekend/holiday, whatever you want to call it, make sure you take it.  And if the opportunity isn’t presented to you, go and seek it out, because you never know who you could meet, what you might write, or where it will lead you.

Paperclip Girl loses the plot (and her character)

This is the time of year when the high wire act of balancing teaching and writing becomes most tricky.  End-of-semester submissions have been handed in with another batch due at the beginning of May.  This means I’m going to be marking, immersed in other people’s writing, for around six weeks.  In addition to this, there are several deadlines for short story competitions coming up, competitions I’d like to enter (and win, it goes without saying).

images-2Now, I’m a pretty organised person, very good at setting my own deadlines and sticking to them.  While on the MA for Creative Writing at BSU my organisational skills earned me the nickname Paperclip Girl, so yes, I’m organised, some would say to the point of control freakery.

Over the past few weeks my aim has been to get two stories out to competitions by the time I started marking.  Very doable, you would think.  Just two stories.  And I was half way there with the first one workshopped, redrafted and sent out by the beginning of April.  Tick in the box (I love ticking things off a list almost as much as making the list itself), and Paperclip Girl ruled supreme.

And then I came to workshop the second story, just a week or so ago.  The story itself has been troubling me for years.  Or I’ve been troubling it, depending on your perspective.  I knew it still wasn’t right but I couldn’t diagnose what the problem was.  So I did a rewrite, hoping my (relatively new) workshop buddy would say yep, just rework this bit, add some sparky dialogue there, cut the final line and you’re good to go.

But no.  The feedback was more damaging than that and particularly vexing because even though this w/s relationship is new, his judgement has been impeccable so far.  So I knew deep down (and all you writers out there know I mean deep, deep down, at the point beyond your soul where you hide the things you don’t want to acknowledge in safe-like compartments with combination locks), I knew he was right.

The diagnosis, that the main character does not fit the writing style, is spot on.  This is why the story hasn’t been working.  For years.  Two fundamental elements of the story don’t belong together.  You would have thought after twenty years of writing I would have noticed this basic problem, it’s nuts and bolts, elementary school level, surely?  That’s probably true, but while it’s frustrating in the extreme it’s also what I love about writing.  I will never know everything.  I will always be learning.

So the result of my w/s buddy’s annoyingly astute observation is that Paperclip Girl’s schedule is now seriously out of whack.  What this story needs isn’t just a leisurely bit of tinkering over a nice cappuccino and a chocolate croissant.  This requires a major rethink that will involve multiple walks, deep baths and several train journeys of significant length because basically, my main character has to be a different person.

There is a small, I mean tiny, possibility my OCD-style schedule will stay on track (this is Paperclip girl trying to assert her authority here), because I’m about to leave on a long journey today, in fact.  I’m going on my first writing weekend in about ten years with the Wordsmiths in Herefordshire (http://www.thewordsmiths.org), and I’ll be holed up in a beautiful house surrounded by beautiful gardens.  So I’ve been asking myself if I can use that long journey to figure out my character?  Can I spend those free hours in the afternoons to shut myself away in a lofty room or a quiet nook in the garden?

It’s possible, but in truth I know what will happen.  My good intentions will disappear as soon as I get there.  I’ll be surrounded by other writers, I’ll be having writerly conversations, I’ll be thinking and breathing writing, and my character won’t get a look in because I’m having such a good time, meeting some really interesting people while eating an awful lot of cake. Writing Girl is stronger than Paperclip Girl, and if they ever get involved in an arm wrestle, I know which one I’d back.

images-1 19.37.07So I’ve been mulling this over for the past week: marking, writing, cake, competitions, cake, weekend away, cake… trying to look for a way that I can do it all.  And then I remembered why I’m writing this blog.  I’m supposed to be embracing these conflicts to make the balancing easier. The centre of gravity, remember?  So I looked at the bigger picture and decided to push my main character to the back of my mind (and Paperclip Girl off a cliff).  The brain has a nifty way of figuring out problems while you’re not thinking about them, so while I’m driving on the motorway, having wonderful conversations with fellow writers, eating delicious cake and then getting back to marking, my sub-conscious will be doing all the hard work for me. And then maybe, when I do finally return to the story, my main character will be there, waiting to tell me who he is.

Either way it’s a win win situation… did I mention the cake?

Living Amongst The People

images 19.44.56I’ve been waiting to watch Silver Linings Playbook for a while now, and not just because it stars Bradley Cooper, honest.  This is a mainstream, successful Hollywood film that deals with the subject of mental illness.  It’s unusual, to say the least, to have a fetching male lead as well as the lovely Jennifer Lawrence exploring an issue that makes people so uncomfortable.  We’ve had films like Girl, Interrupted and A Beautiful Mind, both based on true stories and showing the destruction mental illness can cause, but SLP is different.  Two young and attractive lead characters.  A story that has their relationship rather than their illness at the centre.  And it has humour.  Yes, mental illness can be destructive, but as the film depicts it can also be enlightening, creative, manageable and yes, funny.

All this makes me wonder if mental illness is suddenly… dare I say it… sexy?

You’d be right to question if this is the best way to discuss the subject, but it gives me heart that such a film has been made, awarded an Oscar for Lawrence’s performance, and talked about by the critics and viewing public alike.  It means we’ve come a long way in our understanding of mental health problems.  Once upon a time, not so long ago, people were forcibly removed from their families and hidden away in institutions, subjected to barbaric treatments and sometimes imprisoned for the rest of their lives.  Now we have glossy, sensitive and uplifting films.  That’s got to be progress, not just in the treatment of the conditions themselves, but also in the way we treat individuals.

It also gives me heart that I may not have wasted the past three years writing a novel that explores the effect of mental illness on a family (with a thriller plot aimed at young adults).  I sometimes get the feeling I don’t choose the subjects I write about, they choose me, but I have to say that even when I started writing this book I felt uneasy.  I knew I was taking a risk, and the eight drafts it took to get the story right didn’t do anything to lessen my unease.  The fact is that mental illness is the kind of subject matter publishers shy away from.  They’ve always been a conservative bunch but recently this has become more obvious, opting for safe books, often with the promise of a series on subjects that already have a following (I’m talking vampires, zombies and werewolves here).  Ultimately, it’s all about the bottom line.

But regardless of those niggling little prods that tell me I should be writing something fluffy and fun and commercial, my dark side always wins the day. Mimi Thebo talks very personally about death in her latest post (http://myglamorousliterarylife.wordpress.com), and how we used to see death more openly.  When she was a child the elderly carried on living with their families so the inevitable decline was there for everyone to see, and when she was taken to see an open coffin she noticed how ‘undramatic it was, how normal the deceased looked’ (go and read it, she’s great).  And she’s right, nowadays we shield our children from such experiences, we put our elderly relatives into a home, pack ourselves off to have some plastic surgery and pretend it will never happen to us.

I think the opposite has happened with mental health over the past few years.  It’s still a subject that people find difficult to talk about, not least because it’s difficult to understand, all those genetic influences, neurotransmitters that refuse to behave and random trigger factors, but we do see and hear about it more, whether it’s a friend or neighbour, the person acting differently on the street, or a character in a film, we no longer hide people in dark and dusty institutions and wait for them to die.

Silver Linings Playbook gives me courage.  The publishers may be conservative but I’m not, which is why I’m going to resist the urge to spend a small fortune on postage and packaging just to fill up the slush piles.  Instead I’m going to publish the novel as an ebook this year under the title The Big Deep.  That way it won’t be swallowed up by a dark and dusty institution that wants everyone to be the same, it will be out there, living amongst the people.

Gifts from students

One of my all time favourite books (I’m talking top three here) was recommended to me by a student.  The book is ‘House of Leaves‘, by Mark Z. Danielewski and is hard to describe, it’s so complex and mind-bending.  All I can say is whenever I meet someone who’s read it (which is rare), we settle down for a conversation with hushed awe.

Cover of "House of Leaves"
Cover of House of Leaves

I am recommending this book to others all the time, acting like it’s my discovery and I’m so cool and clever to know about it, but deep down I know it was gifted to me by someone far cooler and cleverer than me. Students seem to have a wealth of knowledge about obscure and experimental books.  Another is ‘When I Was Five I Killed Myself‘, by Howard Buten, and ‘The Boy With The Cuckoo-Clock Heart‘, by Mathias Malzieu (a neat little gem of a book that won’t be obscure for long, they’re making it into a film).  I am rarely disappointed by these recommendations and am always jotting down notes on stories and writers that are new to me.  Yes, I’m the teacher which means I’m supposed to know everything but in a whispered aside, I don’t.  Shocking, I know.

Anyway, this is what I love about teaching. Every year my own reading goes off in a different direction because a student has talked passionately and convincingly about a writer or book in class, sometimes even shedding new light on my past reading.  Here are a couple of things my students have gifted to me this year:

1. Robert Hass.  A poet of tender and acute insight.  My favourite poem from ‘The Apple Trees At Olema” is ‘Variations on a Passage in Edward Abbey’, where he equates the movement of a sand dune to the feelings of grief.  I haven’t tackled ‘My Mother’s Nipples’ yet, so can’t comment.

2.  An astute insight into the short story ‘Boxes’ by Raymond Carver:  of course the protagonist can only become a man and succeed in his own relationship when he lets his mother make her own choices. This gets to the truth of his journey.  I’ve been discussing this story for four years in class, and it took a student more plugged in than me to hold up the light and show me the way.

3.  An anthology called ‘Telling Tales’ that integrates my student’s stories with illustrations by children (http://tellingtalesanthology.wordpress.com).  A group of writers with a clear vision and the determination to carry it out no matter what the obstacles (even a whale decorated with a snowman).

4.  ‘Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal’, by Jeanette Winterson.  A bible on why we tell stories and how they can be woven by real experience.

5.  Important information for any teacher, old or new — rice crispy cakes really are the best end-of-semester Easter treat.

apple treesimages366497

Of course this is not a comprehensive list and the semester isn’t over yet, but this is a thank you to all the students who continue to inspire me, and finally, thank you for the rice crispy cakes, there’s nothing quite like a sustained sugar rush to get a class rolling.

The things that scare you…

A couple of weeks ago I bumped into an ex-student at a seminar run by the Higher Education Academy.  I taught her as an undergraduate on a module where writing out of your comfort zone and experimentation was encouraged.  She told me I gave her two pieces of advice that she’s never forgotten and now passes on to her own students.  For the life of me I can’t remember what the first nugget of wisdom was, but the second was to write about the things that scare you.  She said she’d done this and now she can write about anything.

This made me realise how crippling fear can be.  There is an element of fear in both writing and teaching; whatever your level of experience you are at the mercy of your students, your memory, your imagination, and for me that lack of control is what brings on those middle-of-the-night brain rushes that are the equivalent to five espressos.  But I also know that if I didn’t have that anxiety I’m probably not doing it right.  As Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Something that often gives me the midnight frights is the thought that juggling teaching and writing means I’m shockingly awful at both.  I’ve been battling with this high wire act for six years now, feeling like writing and teaching are at opposite ends of the pole, always worrying about one while I’m doing the other.  But I’ve recently realised something.  It finally occurred to me that for six years, I have been doing both and my centre of gravity will be greater if I bring them together, accept that they depend on one another and embrace the fact that I’m so lucky to be able think about/talk about/write about writing every single day, even if I am trying to balance on a wire while I’m doing it.

So this is what this blog is going to be about.  Teaching and writing and all the madness in between.  I’ll write about campus life, books and stories, things that inspire me, things that make me want to give up and become a waitress.  Any excuse to do some writing really.

And while I anticipate the next batch of submissions to mark, I hold onto the fact that I have a whole list of new writers, insights and ideas that I’ve gained from students this year, a list that will be even longer by the end of the semester.  I love a good list, but that will have to wait until my next post because right now I’ve got a rare couple of hours free, so I’m going to settle down on the sofa, tell the fear to get lost, and finish that short story that’s finally starting to come together.