Grant Writing: Are You Listening?

Photo by Fredrik Rubensson entitled ‘diary writing’ (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic), link through photo

Grant writing is a new thing for me, so you should take all my advice with a grain of salt – but this is one piece I think might be worth considering. Grant writing isn’t really a big, scary exercise in writing and self-promotion (well, I mean, it is that too) but more importantly it’s an exercise in listening.

But who are we listening to? To answer this, we must think about who are we in conversation with as we write our grants. There can be several answers to this question – and several audiences for you to consider.

  1. The Grant Reviewers – Imagine you have to sit down and look over hundreds of applications from, mostly, similarly qualified candidates. What would make some stand out? It isn’t likely to be that one extra paper you published – it’s more likely to be that your application was enjoyable and easy to read. When the pages fly by and your story is interesting, you’ll leave the reviewers with a far more positive impression of you, and your science. So spend lots of time perfecting the readability of your writing – the reviewers will thank you.
  2. The Grant-granting Agency – I work as an assistant poetry editor for a literary magazine – in some ways we are a ‘granting agency’ in that we grant author’s work publication in our journal. Nothing is more irritating than reading work that doesn’t fit the stated goals of our magazine! Granting agencies likely feel the same way – if your work doesn’t fit the criteria, or address the points in the application instructions clearly, it doesn’t matter how amazing you are, you simply haven’t demonstrated you deserve this grant. Pay close attention to the wording used in the application for who they are looking to give this money to – and then use that same language to describe yourself and your work, so it’s easy to spot how you fit the bill.
  3. Your Critics – Another creative writing tidbit is the idea of workshops; you bring in a piece of writing and distribute it to your peers, who read it and comment on it – telling you what worked and what didn’t. You usually end up with 15 copies of your work that all say slightly different things… but have some common underlying thread. Apply the same principles to your grant – send it to lots of people, those with and without experience in your field or with you/your projects, etc. The suggestions they send back will vary and you absolutely should not take every suggestion, but look for the underlying themes. Are certain sections unclear? Do you need to reorganize so your question is broader and has more impact on your field? Is the tone bogging the piece down? Listen to what your critics are saying underneath their suggestions to get to some of the real issues with the piece.
  4. Your Cheerleader – Grant writing, maybe because it’s new or maybe because I have some serious impostor syndrome, is some hard stuff. I have to catch myself from making all kinds of qualifying, humbling statements like ‘this was a pretty big paper’ (since grant writing is all about acknowledging your accomplishments). So make sure you have a cheerleader – preferably somebody in your field but not your adviser who can tell you that you are GRRRRRREAT. It could be your mom, but would you really believe her? Find that one professional who can make you feel like others in your field recognize how awesome you are – and then read their email while listening to that ‘New Avengers’ song from ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’. I promise, you’ll feel ten feet tall after and swagger like you’re Iron Man.
  5. Yourself – If you can’t represent yourself in the grant application, you don’t deserve to get it – whoever you represented does. No matter everyone else’s suggestions, edits, comments, and concerns, make sure before you submit that the grant still sounds like you. No one knows your smarts, skills, achievements, creativity, humor, etc like you do – so always read that last draft with yourself in mind.

Listening is hard and takes practice – pulling out the ‘underlying concerns’ in a critic’s piece or identifying what to do to make your narrative read more easily can be difficult. Not receiving a grant isn’t actually always about you and your qualifications – there are so many nuanced reasons, especially when there’s so little money to give out and such competitive pools of applicants (that you’re a part of!). Put your best application forward, then back away from the result – and be prepared to try again.

Each day, a new day.

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A Writer Walked Into a Camp…

Alex and I celebrating Easter with his family, in sunny FL

April was an interesting month for me, in part because I really focused on my writing more than I had the rest of the year, by participating in Camp NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, and happens every November – participants try to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. I participated my senior year of high school and won (in only 19 days!), but November has been a pretty sh*t month every year thereafter given that I’ve been a college/grad student and things get pretty heated for school right around November.

Camp NaNo, then, happens in the spring and summer and is a lot more relaxed – you set your own goals for word count/hours of writing/pages, etc, and get sorted into cabins with other participants to chat and motivate one another. I started out April’s camp with a far too ambitious goal of 50,000 words (thinking my writing skills were more in practice than they are) and quickly lowered it to 35,000 words. But the end of April really took me by surprise, with research, classwork, friend and family obligations, and so I only ended up at around 20,000 words – still a remarkable number of words for a grad student to tackle in just one month, I think.

I have mixed feelings about how April’s camp went – on the one hand, I am 20,000 words deeper into a story than I was before and that is an amazing amount of progress for just one month while also taking classes and working on several research projects. What I’m less happy about, is how much else in my life fell to a standstill – namely, every household chore, my emotional health, and several friendships were under-served in this time “balance”. It feels like something is constantly being sacrificed – my health, my research, my coursework, my sanity, my house, my friendships, or my writing.

It’s this feeling of sacrifice, and the immense amount of weight of all the constantly undone things in my life, that seems to be dragging me down most of late. I no longer feel like an ‘impostor’ – I’m really hitting a stride in my research and have tons of ideas flowing. I love (and am annoyed by) how my story is flowing, and had fun working on it. But it’s all the papers unread, the brains unmeasured, the photos not taken, the emails unanswered, the homework undone, the laundry unfolded and dishes not cleaned, the games not made, the words not written, the calls not made, and the gifts not purchased that are paralyzing me. And each time I begin to feel really good about one or even two things, the other areas of my life start to pop up and burden me heavily with the weight of my neglect.

And paralyzing is an accurate word, I think. I come home at night and do nothing, in part because I am tired and in part because I cannot decide fully which problem most deserves my attention and suddenly nothing happens and it is time for bed. My typical strategies for dealing with stress and being overwhelmed no longer seem to work and I still can’t quite figure out if that’s because I’ve changed, or my life has changed, or both. Camp was, in many ways, lovely and encouraging (exciting and relieving to boot!) but in several senses it highlighted just how hard it can be to juggle my two big life goals at the same time and still maintain a creative, energetic flow in my life. And it certainly makes me appreciate how hard my favorite writers work to maintain their ‘day’ and writing careers at the same time.

Do you have any tricks for managing a difficult workload or schedule with several long-term projects? How do you adjust your mindset?

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Character Flaws

17990375_1652112918136755_7909619328052172307_oThis past weekend, my fiance and I took a trip to Florida for Easter to visit his family. Despite the fact that this was our third trip down (aka, I’m not new to planes), I still managed to forget to pack some Dramamine for the plane ride. I spent the entirety of our descent into Punta Gorda wincing, holding onto my stomach, trying not to hyperventilate and thankfully, not vomiting on my beloved. As we exited the plane and returned to blessed, solid ground, my legs were shaking so badly I thought I might fall over.

A more perfect version of myself would have one of two qualities:

  1. A sturdier stomach, in which I do not get plane sick
  2. A more focused brain, in which I remember I get plane sickness and bring the medicine I own for said problem

But if I were reading about this moment in My Life: A Novel, a reader enjoying a well-crafted protagonist named Meghan Barrett, it’s exactly this kind of moment that would bring me, the character, to life for me, the reader. As I read the description of my wobbly legs nearly buckling descending the steps to the tarmac, complete with a description of my fear of fainting at my father-in-law’s feet and regret at forgetting my medicine, I’d likely howl with laughter and then call my fiance over to read those same lines with me. It is a character’s imperfections that make them real and interesting.

I don’t particularly like writing my characters’ imperfections – it feels almost like betraying a friend or revealing someone’s dirty secret since no one else in the world knows these characters (and their flaws) but me. If you like a person, you don’t generally go around telling other people about all the things they could be doing better, a la “Rachel? Oh yeah, she’s great. Real smart and lovable but she does have a temper. And man could she use a toothbrush.” By writing honestly about those flaws, my characters then generally have to go through exactly what I hate to go through myself: failure or embarrassment. But it’s overcoming those moments of failure (and the humor of living through some of them) that make the story interesting, inspiring, engaging – great.

Do you struggle to write about your character’s flaws and failures? How do you make sure you stay true to your characters? What kinds of flaws are your favorites to write (or least favorite)? Why? Tell me in the comments below!

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Plotting and Pantsing

In the writing world, there’s a lot of talk about two kinds of people – the plotters, and the pantsers. There are the people who plot out every step of the novel from beginning to end, with scene cards and post its, while others sit down to write with almost no plan at all. And, of course, there are people in between.

Plotting is in my nature. I’m the kind of gal who wants to plan each meal she eats, who has to do lists about which to do lists to focus on each day, who wants to have her next ten years planned out by the hour (okay, not quite that bad). But plotting in writing, doesn’t seem to come naturally to me; in school, I detest writing outlines for my essays because I’d rather just finish the thing and reorganize as I go. For my story that I’m working on now, I’ve had the basic concept of the series idea in mind for at least three years and yet there’s only about fifteen post its on the wall to corral the material of four whole books – and most of those post its are about the historical context and not the story itself.

And maybe that’s because Pantsing is also in my nature, despite the fact that I want to be a plotter – I want to have control over (or at least know) where my story is going. While I certainly have a lot of lists and plans for my life, I do get distracted along the way, getting pulled towards plenty of shiny objects that aren’t my main goal. When that happens, I end up missing the mark of a lot of the plotted out ‘points’ or goals I’d been hoping to achieve. And yet, it’s these moments of ‘pantsing’ that make me real and spontaneous and human – a being that can’t be charted.

And the more I work on these continuously evolving stories, the more I realize how important ‘pantsing’ has become to my work despite my desire to plot. My characters are not going to follow the line I set for them if it’s not in their nature; instead, when I try to force them down a path I will encounter their resistance. And this resistance, while frustrating, has pointed me in the right direction now more than once.

Pantsing is frustrating because it means 30-50K words can go away like ‘poof’ when you realize something new about your plot or characters. It would be nice if I knew them well enough at the outset to plot their lives like they would actually live them; and yet this exploration is so fascinating, so decidedly not self-directed despite the fact that all the words and characters come from me, that I can’t quite find the will to be upset about it for long.

Are you a pantser or a plotter? Somewhere in between? What strategies do you use to keep your writing on track? Let me know in the comments below.

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Collaborative Writing Challenge

Image taken from the CWC website, link through the photo

For the past few months, I’ve been participating in the Collaborative Writing Challenge – this project asks a group of around fifty authors to write a novel together, in some predetermined genre. Fifty authors! You say (I said). One book! Impossible!

Here’s how it works. The CWC puts out a call for authors to sign up for the project, a novel of a particular genre, and accepts first chapter submissions from all authors for a novel in that genre. The story coordinator, who oversees the writing of the book, chooses their four (or so) favorite submissions and sends them out to all the authors who have signed up for that project, asking for votes. The winning chapter becomes the first chapter of the project.

Meanwhile, the story coordinator is busy setting up a thirty-chapter writing schedule where all authors can sign up to try writing up to three chapters in that thirty-week schedule. No matter what happens in the book, it’d better be wrapped up by chapter 30! Each chapter gets assigned three different authors to attempt writing it within a week, using summaries of all previous chapters prepared by the story coordinator and the full chapter that comes right before theirs. The story coordinator picks a winner, to send on to the next group of writers and the process repeats. An example of how this works:

John, Taylor, and Monique are signed up to write Chapter 23; on Wednesday, they each receive the chapter summaries and reference notes for all twenty-two preceding chapters, and the full text of chapter 22. They have until Tuesday of the following week to each submit their version of Chapter 23 to the story coordinator. The story coordinator chooses Monique’s as the best submission, which is summarily is sent on to the people writing Chapter 24, and a chapter summary is prepared for all future writers.

I signed up last July when I had ‘nothing to do’ and when, in the middle of my winter quarter of graduate school, the email came that my turn to participate in the challenge I said some not-so-nice words while looking at my schedule for the week. My first attempt was a bust where I opened too many cans of worms without leaving any clues for my next-chapter authors – but my second attempt, chapter 27, for the fantasy novel Esyld’s Awakening – was chosen to be included in the final work. The blurb for Esyld’s Awakening is:

In a land of direwolves and dragons, the Abdita or “Hidden” are a species devoted to maintaining the balance between man and the earth. Guardians by nature, their powers are misunderstood.

When a dark force rises, the balance of life is unsettled. Blight and sickness spread.

Desperate for answers, King Rouaix Godfrey XVII turns to the mysterious Prime Order. He sets his knights – led by the unequaled Ser Pagaene – on the Abdita.

But the High Priestess of the Adbita summons a different kind of champion; Esyld, a guardian with wisdom on her side.

Thrown together, each tests the patience and fortitude of the other. But both sides have secrets, and it may take more than nature or man alone to stop what is coming. Can enemies work together to save all?

The project was interesting for me, as an exercise, because it forced me to write outside my comfort zone (let’s face it, almost all writing is outside my comfort zone but this was even MORE so). First, it forced me to let go of control – something I struggle to do in many areas of my life. You can’t choose what happens to the characters once they leave your chapter – your super-elaborate secret plan to solve all the plot holes may go awry after your pen leaves the page. A character you were counting on between your chapters to save the day may die (well, crap) and there’s not much you can do about it but stare at the chapter summary in frustration, shaking your head, before moving on. And because you can’t control everything, it forces you to be adaptable – perhaps, just like your characters at times are painted into a corner and must worm their way out via inventive solutions that you never would have considered were your back not against the wall. As a bit of a plotter, being forced to write by the seat of my pants in less than a week stretched my writerly talents. I also can’t control every comma placement or image description in the book; I know Esyld’s Awakening (despite our truly fantastic story coordinator) will have mistakes. But CWC is about the process, the growth for the writers, more than about the final finished product.

The CWC also forced me to write with incomplete information, something I don’t like to do which then stalls my writing progress. I’ve been thinking about some of my characters for years without ever really making an effort to put pen to paper for them. Why? Because I ‘don’t know them well enough’ or ‘haven’t researched the time period enough’ or ‘haven’t built up their world enough’. These are all valid concerns, don’t get me wrong; nothing makes for a worse book than one with huge anachronisms, poorly developed characters, and bad world building. But sometimes, you have to let go of your hesitation – of not knowing every detail – and just put words on the page. This process leads to important discoveries about characters and worlds, that would never have been made without writing it out. During CWC, you don’t have every word of every previous chapter – in particular, character development is tough. But you have to write anyway.

I’m signed up to try project 8, a romance novel (time period not stated but it seems likely to be a contemporary) and will enjoy the chance to flex my writing muscles again. CWC does play into one of my strengths very well – writing for a deadline! #sprinter – and has given me the motivation to keep up some writing even when grad school gets tough.

Would you try a project like CWC? Why or why not? Have you ever tried a collaborative writing project – with much or little success? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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The Marathon

Me, first day of grad school, not knowing what's about to hit me...
Me, first day of grad school, not knowing what’s about to hit me…

Grad school is a stressful place; don’t let anyone (including your pre-grad-school self, *cough* Meghan *cough*) tell you otherwise. Some of it, if you’re coming straight from undergraduate, will be stressful because you’re managing several facets of ‘real’ adulthood for the first time; some of it will be stressful because it is your seventeenth year of continuous coursework and that wears on a person no matter how much you love, or are good at, school work. And even if you’re not coming straight from college, grad school will still be stressful because you are being pulled in several directions at once – teaching, classes, and multiple research-related objectives require your attention.

I have just finished my second quarter at Drexel which means I have another 1.5 years of classes to go, then my qualifying exam, and then 3-5 years of continuous thesis work to complete. Thinking about the process is exhausting, and stressful, in its own right. And a lot of my stress comes from the fact that grad school, as the fifth year graduate student in my lab often says, is a marathon and not a sprint.

A lot of my work prior to graduate school was a sprint; you sprint through stage-managing or lighting a college play, for example. It’s a stressful two to three months, but it is only two to three months. A hard sprint, but you can power through. The same thing goes for coursework: a semester (now I’m on quarters) is sixteen weeks; the end is always within sight. Even the big writing projects I’ve completed – my play, Experimental Ambiguity, my gamebook app, The Burning Trees of Ormen Mau, and my only completed novel for NaNoWriMo 2011, Jheym’s Silence – all of those were projects that I completed in sprints of less than four months.

Which means that I am now facing something unlike any of my other big projects – a marathon. Unlike my prior work, I can’t just push through this with a reasonably close end in sight. This has been difficult for me to realize – at first, I wanted to treat graduate school like my previous work and ‘sprint’ through it. I stayed late each night at the lab, gave up breaks and weekends in the first four to five months, in order to push through our research projects. But the research was bigger than that – even that one project still isn’t close to done despite all that time input. Science is very slow, and if I try to treat it like a sprint I’ll end up, well, where I am now: stressed and overwhelmed.

Graduate school is forcing me to re-evaluate how I manage my projects. For a sprint, making a to-do list of easily definable goals that I can cross off and watch the list grow ever-shorter is helpful and motivating. For a marathon, a to-do list that seemingly never ends or gets shorter is more of a burden; instead, making a got-done list is more helpful for keeping motivated and reminding oneself that, yes, you are accomplishing things even if it seems like your work is at a standstill. Making sure to praise myself for taking time for me – reading books, going on dates with my fiance, etc – is also critical to staying sane; for a marathon, you must pace yourself, and remember to take care of yourself throughout the race.

A lot of what I’ve been learning about myself in my graduate program reflects on my writing issues; it’s funny to me that, always, my science seems to be so tightly intertwined with lessons about writing. All of my successful writing projects were completed for a deadline; I was sprinting, with a defined finish line in sight. I’ve yet to write a novel, make a game, or even jot down a creative nonfiction piece without a date in mind where the work will be ‘finished’. It seems in both science and writing, internal motivation and balance are critical skills I’m sorely needing to learn.

Have two seemingly disparate parts of your life ever interacted to teach you valuable, cross-disciplinary lessons? How do you manage the ‘marathons’ in your life? Tell me in the comments – I could certainly use your helpful hints!

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The Uncomfortable ‘A-ha’

Photo by Fredrik Rubensson entitled ‘diary writing’ (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic), link through photo

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about a novel I’ve been work-in-progressing with various amounts of gusto for the past four years; clocking in at around 35,000 words now, the book was shaping up to be a real high-quality piece of work. If I was struggling anywhere, it was with moving past that 35K mark, not with loving what I had already written…

Until I sent the beginning of the book off to be read by an editor at a publishing house as part of an unfinished manuscripts call. Now as I sent it off, I had no real hopes that it would be picked up by that publisher. I mean, what are the chances? The book did get rejected a few months later, with a very kind no-thank-you note. And while the editors did not compile a list for me of things to improve upon, the simple fact that I’d sent the book off for someone else to read it made me ask myself the question ‘What didn’t they like?’.

The simple act of sending it out pushed me to go from thinking about what I might like to write to what my readers might like to read. And this, it turns out, was an important enough distinction that I had an uncomfortable ‘A-ha’ moment and scrapped all 35,000 words to begin anew.

The plot changed; the order of the books in the series changed; elements of the characters’ personalities that I had not previously known were uncovered to me. What had begun as a writing-fantasy-on-paper became a more realistic, flawed group of characters with  a completely different set of factors affecting their lives together. It amazed me how just this one shift in focus could make me realize that my whole novel in progress so far was bad: not bad writing, perse, but bad planning.

From that one question, other questions unfolded: Why must this scene be on the page (even if I enjoy it)? Why must the book start here? Where should I give the backstory of this event – and who should give it to be most realistic? How can I make this character more realistic without losing her quintessential awesomeness? Is this believable or am I asking for too much from my readers? These are hard questions to answer sometimes, but the shift from me-centered-writing to reader-centered writing was revolutionary, even if uncomfortable.

This fascinated me mostly, I imagine, because of my incredible ego; on so many writers’ blogs I have read about all the ‘bad rough drafts and manuscripts sitting under the bed never to see the light of day’ and I thought to myself, “my writing is excellent”. And in a sense, that is true; I have a talent for imagery, am competent with witty dialogue, and can wrap up a plot cleanly. But there is so much more to writing than the writing – the decision making, the planning, can matter just as much, if not more, to keeping your readers engaged. And the choices made, those hard decisions, can make for just as bad a manuscript as one littered with purple prose.

Have you ever had an uncomfortable writer’s ‘A-ha’ moment? Let me know in the comments below!

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NaRMo is here!

NaRMo is here! For those of you that missed my last post, NaRMo is National (Book) Reviewing Month – a month-long celebration of reviewing hosted by SUNY Geneseo every February where anyone can submit reviews of their favorite reads to the NaRMO website here. I managed to get a few minutes of time from Dr. Lytton Smith, the founder of NaRMo, for an interview about the project – check it out, below!

Photo thanks to the Geneseo English Department Blog; link through photo

Me: Hi Dr. Smith – thanks for agreeing to do an interview with me about this great project. Let’s get started with our questions – How did NaRMo get started – what was the impetus?

Dr. Smith: Friends and relatives are always asking how to find great new books. And beyond the bestseller charts, that can be hard; review space has been trimmed to cut costs in newspapers, and even online ventures struggle. There’s attention and space for generating work, but we can only generate work if we first read it, and the literary world is well aware that we need more readers of what we’re producing, not least because there are amazing viewpoints, ideas, and stories that will enrich us when they’re heard. I felt that it’s time we signaled as a culture our commitment to shared reading – to reading and talking about books – not just by the wonderful book groups that run all around the country, but by devoting a month to the endeavor – with the hoped-for aim that it will leads to year-long habits of reviewing!
Me: How do you see Geneseo and NaRMo (as a project) benefiting each other? Does the academic ‘host’ for the project provide it with something unique?

Dr. Smith: I think Geneseo students provide something unique. I had the idea over a decade ago and I’ve mentioned it to a few people along the way without much uptake. At Geneseo I found myself surrounded by students whose ethical commitment to the world includes the kind of generosity that book reviewing requires: taking your time, generally without any form of compensation except maybe books, to tell others about someone else’s book. The reviewer largely fades away. Geneseo students recognize the value of doing something that enriches the community first, and the self as a result, so this is an ideal place for it. Plus, I found that Geneseo students were already reading contemporary writing – that my students were introducing me to books I’d not found. I wanted to help create a space for them to share that.
Me: What is the importance of the project? Of book reviews?
Dr. Smith: Whatever one’s political persuasion, we live in a time of great doubt, of people willing to discount someone else’s truth. That move gets a lot, lot harder when you read a book that shares their experience. Research shows that fast broadband internet access makes us more polarized in our political views, that it encourages a cognitive dissonance. I think literature is a crucial way to dispel that, but you can only have that happen if you have the swarm of book reviewers helping people find those books. The social realism of Dickens is still relevant today, but we also need to hear the social realism of a book like Alena Hairston’s poetry collection The Logan Topographies, about African-American coal miners in West Virginia. There are some books that get all the attention, some authors who get hundreds of reviews for anything they write, and often those voices are white and male. If National Book Review Month can draw attention to the fact that there’s a lot more going on, I do think it can elevate political discourse and help us all understand one another a little more.
Me: What kinds of books/reviews does NaRMo accept/prefer?

Dr. Smith: Anything contemporary. It’s important that we reflect what people are reading and want to read. We want books that you, as readers, are passionate about. The poet and critic Craig Dworkin once made the point, a point that’s stuck with me a long time, that in a world where so many books are published, where we can’t possibly read everything, we need to become better at sharing what we are reading, even in brief reviews, so that everyone can have a sense of what’s going on, even if they can’t read everything.
Me: What does the future look like for NaRMo?

Dr. Smith: Right now, Geneseo is the main hub of activity, and New York state more broadly. I hope within the next three years we’ll see more parts of the country come on board, so that it begins to feel truly national, so that we can start making comparisons across place, having conversations that extend beyond Geneseo itself. We’re starting a student club, Geneseo Reads, to foster that year-round, extra-curricular reading and discussion, and I hope that model might extend beyond Geneseo: to other public liberal arts colleges, to other New York schools, to reading groups, to high schools, to places of work. What are auto workers in Detroit reading and what do they want to tell us about it? What about the people of Green Bank, WV, “the town without wifi”? This project exists at Geneseo less because we’re a university and more because we’re committed to the public good, to citizenship in all its dimensions, including literary citizenship. I think the future of NaRMo needs to assert that by creating more links with a public outside of the university – again, something I think Geneseo does very well, and why this feels like a great home for it.

A huge thanks to Dr. Smith for his time, and for starting this great project. Even if you’ve never written a book review before, NaRMo offers easy guidelines for writing quick, helpful book reviews and the official month of reviewing starts today! Get out there and share the writing you love!
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NaRMO: Ready to Review?

narmoMany of you may have heard of NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month, which happens every November. There’s also National Novel Editing Month (organized by volunteers) in March, and National Poetry Writing Month (also organized by volunteers) in April. Along with summers spent at Camp NaNo (for people who don’t just want to write novels in November!) it can seem like the whole year is basically booked in National Writing events.

But on the other end of all that writing are the readers; and that’s where National Book Review Month, a project started by professors at the State University of New York at Geneseo, comes in. NaRMo (the ‘book’ is silent) occurs every February and can take as much or as little time as you want, unlike some of the more ‘hardcore’ national writing months I mentioned above that are really work-intensive (and thus not always feasible for everyone). Participants in Narmo don’t have to make an account or sign up – instead, they simply drop a book review off in the submit box and, after review by the admins, it gets posted on the site. Simple as that!

The idea behind Narmo (#narmo, also @getreviewing and you can email them at: is for readers to come together and share books, and what they love. There’s no limit on the type of book reviewed – so far I’ve reviewed poetry, drama, and even romance novels for the project; nonfiction (even textbook-style), children’s books, and other lit are also welcome. If you don’t see a category or genre up there yet – don’t be afraid to request it! Reviews can be as long or as short as you like, and the website offers tips for writing reviews for those who are new to that sort of thing.

So what are you waiting for? Have you read an amazing book lately (of course you have!)? Then share it with the world, over at NaRMo. You can submit reviews at any time, but my understanding is that they start updating the site in February.

What do you think about this project? Are you excited to participate and write/read some reviews? Let me know in the comments below – and thanks as always, for reading.

Some of my reviews:

Blind Huber by Nick Flynn

The Physicists by Friedrich Durrenmatt

Sinful in Satin by Madeline Hunter

Taken by the Prince by Christina Dodd

Taming the Beast by Heather Grothaus

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New Years Goals: 2017

With the New Year comes new year’s resolutions – which are typically a bit of a mess, in my opinion. Oft hyped but rarely completed, resolutions are something you find on a scrap piece of paper three years later and realize you (maybe) achieved one of the eight things on your list.

Nevertheless, as an eternal optimist, I make resolutions every year without fail and, usually, one or two of them happen. As I get older, my resolutions have gotten more tailored to my actual desires (no ‘run a marathon’) and less numerous – I think, more reasonable overall.

So here are my, hopefully modest, new year goals, not resolutions. Next year, I’ll hopefully be able to reflect back on these and feel like I achieved something significant – just like in my 2016 Wrap Up post.

  1. Finish gathering data for the Eciton army ant project
  2. Maintain an active blog presence here, with at least one post a week
  3. Develop my board game idea into a reality
  4. Publish three more poems
  5. Have my committee and thesis ideas outlined for my PhD

What’s on your list for 2017? How do you feel about New Years Resolutions/goals? Let me know in the comments and thanks, as always, for reading.


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