What I’m Working On

Welcome to another update of ‘what I’m working on’ where I tell you all a bit about the progression of my life as I wander towards old age. Because grad school is about to start, I actually have two types of updates for you – a small research update, and another on writing!


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

It turns out my dreams of looking at bee brains will have to wait – while I look at ant brains instead. I don’t know how much of my research I’m allowed to talk about online (or if I’m allowed to post any pictures) but the work involves preserving, dicing, and then quantifying the volume of different parts of the brains of many ants. I’m going to be ‘taking over’ this project at my graduate school, so I’m really excited to be getting a head start (haha, see what I did there?).

Please note, the ant pictured has nothing to do with my research. I just wanted to illustrate – aren’t their brains tiny???


Another poem has been selected for publication! Ashenhalted II – a poem from my Sugar Maple cycle – was selected by Firefly Magazine for publication in their September issue. They’re a journal of luminous writing and I’m very excited they felt my piece qualified! Expect to see Ashenhalted II featured on Biopoetics sometime this fall where you’ll learn a bit about the process for making Jack Daniels as part of the poem’s scientific background.

I’ve taken a break from poetry this month to work on the nonfiction piece for my brother (about his distillery) and to work on a fiction novel I’ve let go for far too long. I’ve added about 8000 words and deleted about 4000 others, so I’m glad to be making headway… anyway, I’m at 30K right now and I’ve decided to set the very moderate goal of finishing it (approximately 85K) by December 31. I finally feel like I’ve gotten back in the swing of writing regularly; just like everything else, it seems, it’s all about the practice.

I’m trying to get the newsletter feature up and running; hopefully, it’s working as a once-weekly feature of all my blog posts and updates! If you’re looking for updates from me in your inbox instead of having to check back here every day, feel free to subscribe (no spam, promise)!

Lastly, since it’s September, I know some of you writerly folks might be gearing up for NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month, which comes every November. Once grad school begins, I’ll see how the work load feels and consider joining in the fun; if I do, there will likely be a few less blog posts while I crank out the words. If you’ve never done NaNo before, I highly recommend it; while I’ve only won once (thanks to some awesome, dedicated NaNo friends in 2012!), you can really move forward with your work in only 30 days!

If you have any tips and tricks for managing your writing schedule or participating in NaNoWriMo while leading a busy life I’d love to hear them – leave me a comment below or send some tips using the methods on my ‘contact me’ page.

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Getting Hitched to Your Writing

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

The more reading I do about the subject of writing, the more I come across this idea: you must take your writing life seriously. Gabriela Pereira says it in DIY MFA, Carolyn See in Making a Literary Life, and Andi Cumbo-Floyd says it excellently in this recent post on their blog.

There are internal and external factors that lead to our writing lives dwindling. Internally, I struggle with the insecurity that my writing isn’t good enough; I bump up against the frustration that I will need to put in so much time and practice to, maybe, never get anywhere at all. I worry that I will spend years writing something that was ‘wasted’ because I discovered I wanted to write something else (or that what I was writing was the wrong type of thing to begin with). Externally, there’s the laundry. Graduate school assignments and research. Friends and family and the commitments they entail. Grocery shopping, cooking… even exhaustion which zaps my creative spirit.

It’s not that I’m not taking my writing seriously, though. My writing has never been a joke. It’s just that we writers often aren’t willing to get hitched to it. When you marry (I hear, anyway), there are good days and bad days… or weeks, or months, or years. There are internal and external struggles that are informed by your past baggage, present circumstance, and future goals – and you have to commit yourself to taking the time to work on the marriage through all combinations of baggage, circumstance, and goals if it’s going to keep happening.

If your writing is neglected, if you refuse to support it, how can your relationship flourish? How can you grow as a writer if you don’t take the time to understand and communicate with your writing? It’s not about taking the job/task of writing seriously, I think most of us do, but about committing yourself to your writing with the same focus and dedication you would commit yourself to another person. So here are my tips for getting hitched to writing:

  1. Plan date nights – everyone knows dating shouldn’t end when you put a ring on it. Plan special (and fun!) date nights with your writing where you explore something new together and keep distractions at bay. Let the date reinvigorate your passion for writing and remind you why you started in the first place. Have a guilty pleasure project? Now’s the time!
  2. Communicate about big goals – both partners in a relationship should always be on the same page when it comes to big picture goals. Every few months, reserve a few hours where you sit down and write out your writing goals, reviewing the progress you’ve made since your last check-in. It’s okay if goals change or if you need to spend time brainstorming how to make a goal happen; this will just help you focus your attentions on where this relationship has been and where you plan for it to go (the plan is seriously key).
  3. Prioritize – you wouldn’t have a very successful relationship if you didn’t prioritize time with your partner! We do some of this easily by living with the other person but, even so, relationships need more than just ‘co-existence’ time. Similarly, don’t just ‘co-exist’ with the writing inside you. Plan out time for your writing each week (be it lots of time or a little) and then prioritize it – nothing short of a disaster/emergency should cut into the time you’ve scheduled with your love. How would your real-life partner feel if you continuously broke your promises? Yeah, don’t do it to your writing either.
  4. Give yourself ‘you’ time – I believe you can’t be your best self in a relationship when you don’t focus, sometimes, on pampering you. The amount of ‘you’ time you need will vary based on your life and your writing schedule and can be anything from a bubble bath to rock climbing. Make sure this time makes it onto your schedule so you don’t sacrifice too much to your writing relationship and end up burned out or bitter.

What are your tips for either ‘getting hitched’ to writing (or taking it seriously)? Do you find schedules and planning work for you or do you like to do everything on the fly? Let me know in the comments. 🙂

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‘Bee’ Reviewed: The Best of The Best from 2000

She's really not as tiny as this picture makes her look...
She’s really not as tiny as this picture makes her look…

This book, The Best of the Best American Science Writing is just chock-full of what we love on this blog (in case you missed it, that’s science and writing)!

This collection is the culmination of ten years of other collected essays. From 2000 to 2009, The Best of American Science Writing books were published yearly. Now, each editor of one of those books has been asked to select the two best essays from their year, resulting in this volume.

The Best of the Best of 2000 ended up being two medical essays – “When Doctors Make Mistakes” by Atul Gawande (who I’d already written some about here) and “The Biotech Death of Jesse Gelsinger” by Sheryl Gay StolbergI’ll do a brief review of each of these essays.

Gawande’s essay is broken into five sections that alternate between personal accounts of medical mistakes with near deadly consequences and statistical/historical accounting of errors in medicine. The essay highlights both the necessity for better processes so that doctors make fewer mistakes and the inevitability of mistakes in such a human field. The writing is clear and, as you would expect from something published in The New Yorker, well-researched and contextualized. Gawande’s goal is to persuade, to teach the average reader about the medical realities of surgery and hospital processes, and in this he succeeds.

Gawande’s personal memories where he brings us into the hospital room or the M. & M. with him, are vivid and fast-paced, the strength of the story (particularly the opening section when we are dropped right into the O.R.). I found the sections on history and stats, which were long and generally uninterrupted by any narrative, to be much slower, as they contained a lot of (albeit useful) dry information. However, because the piece is relatively short, even these drier sections were easy enough to get through.

Stolberg’s essay is about a young man who died unexpectedly during gene therapy research; she touches on some of what Gawande writes about when he says that medical errors often compound. Her story has few of the heart-racing moments of Gawande’s (though Gelsinger’s death is very poignant) but is more consistent in it’s pacing and in the way it blends the personal, historical, political and scientific on every page. Stolberg works from a personal lens, always writing about a person, whereas Gawande alternates between a personal and statistical point of view. This is not to say that Stolberg shies away from an accurate discussion science or research, however, because she does a great job presenting the science concisely and for a lay audience through the lens of the scientists.

Both essays speak to the ethics of medicine and medical research, though Stolberg doesn’t leave the reader with her definite opinion on the matter; her essay seeks to allow the reader to make their own decisions after she presents the story.

Overall, Stolberg’s essay is much easier to read if you like a good narrative; Gawande’s provides a nice ‘easy’ resolution for readers as his opinion is evident throughout the piece. Gawande’s piece is more thrilling overall, but does lack detail when you want it most. Stolberg’s is by far the saddest of the two pieces as she spends a lot of time detailing Gelsinger’s death and the reaction of those close to him. People who are interested in medicine will find both of these essays fascinating despite their different styles.

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DIY MFA Part 3: MFA Mythology

Zeus may or may not be so big on the MFA Mythology… photo from flickr/Internet Archive Book Images (link in photo)

In Chapter Two, “Customize Your Learning”, Pereira goes over some myths of the MFA – that you need one to teach writing, that an MFA is a shortcut to getting published (who believes that??), and that the program will force you to make writing a priority.

I don’t know that I’m convinced an MFA or PhD in writing wouldn’t help if you were looking to be a professor (though I agree with Pereira that many professors find they don’t have the time to keep writing a priority). Pereira says that it’s publishing professionals and successful authors who are being selected for teaching positions and this may be true – but there are many publishing professionals and many successful authors that will compete for the same pool of jobs. Wouldn’t it be best to be the most qualified of them all, with teaching and workshop experience, by having an MFA to boast of?

As for the third myth, I was surprised by Pereira’s take on it – that if you can only make time for writing by putting your life completely on hold then your writing career is going to be very short. A DIY MFA is all about that struggle of finding balance between work, life, and writing; it’s all about taking away those external motivators like deadlines and workshops (that I mentioned were hurting my productivity in The Perpetual Writer’s Block) and forcing you to build up your own pacing abilities and internal motivators. This takes time, but I do imagine that Pereira is right on this one – even if I go to earn an MFA after my “DIY MFA” training is long over, having the skill of internal motivation will mean a lot to having a successful career.

Periera will soon be addressing the three main tenants of the MFA in great detail: write with focus, read with purpose, and build a community. I’m interested to see how she proposes you build a writing community – the traditional MFA seems to be a lot better suited to that than the DIY model.

I will admit to wanting to attend an MFA program at some point – when I have the time, the money, and have shown myself I have the grit to make the most of it (which, as a very young and insecure writer, right now I don’t). For the moment, Pereira has convinced me that the DIY MFA method will teach me a lot of valuable techniques, particularly skills to develop my focus and internal motivation.

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‘Bee’ Reviewed: Square Rounds

Square Rounds 1
Nyx: I care not at all for your square shapes or rectangle shapes or round shapes… I care only for squirrel shapes.

I knew Tony Harrison more as a poet than a playwright which is why the play Square Rounds took me by surprise. Harrison takes on a lot with this play and I’ll admit that reading it, as opposed to seeing it performed, clearly does not do all the ideas of the play justice. There’s a lot of important stage direction in this play that can be tough to wade through and imagine.

Square Rounds deals with the ethics of science – when chemical discoveries can lead to fertilizers that could help feed all of humanity but also can lead to toxic bombs that destroy humanity physically and morally. Liebig, Haber, and Hudson and Hiram Maxim are the scientists in question, who work with nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen, one after the other.

The play is a bit difficult to get through because it almost always rhymes – if
you, like me, struggle with rhyming this is going to be a hard play to read. In addition, the play is pretty repetitive – you definitely will have a grasp of the ethical quandary our scientists face throughout the play. The play is also humorous but in a very dirty way, speaking often and glibly of farts and feces in the chemical conversation surrounding fertilizer.

Harrison seems to be less focused on the process of science or even the lives of scientists, opting to make the focal point of his play the morality of doing science when it can result in both good or evil. Harrison shows us that science is not ‘controllable’ – once the discovery is out of the head of the scientist, it can go anywhere (to the lamentations of the scientists who made the original discoveries). Harrison writes,

“CLARA HABER:…Nitrogen fixation giving ammonia NH3/ makes fertilizers, yes, but also TNT…The nitrogen you brought from way up high/ now blows the men you saved into the sky…

“FRITZ HABER: I pioneered fixation to fulfill/ a desperate human need and not to kill/ when I pioneered the process I had in mind/ only benefits and blessings for mankind.”

Square Rounds 2
Nyx: A fart joke, you say? What is that? *looks at book suspiciously*

Hudson and Hiram Maxim develop weapons from the chemical discoveries of Liebig and Haber – the fertilizer has now almost entirely left the conversation as scientists race to build better chemical weapons (a race that ends with the World Wars). Harrison paints a dark picture of how science gets out of hand and the chaos of the stage parallels the chaos of the chemical inventions.

I would recommend this play to those who enjoy imagining the scene on stage more than the words themselves. If you’re looking for ‘real science’ there is some but it’s so hidden in rhyme it can be a struggle to retain it. The play begins fairly light-hearted but doesn’t remain that way, so if you’re not looking for serious commentary (albeit veiled with fart jokes) on where science has been used for ill in our history, look elsewhere.

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First Book Launch

On August 12th, I traveled into NYC to attend the DIY MFA Book Launch as part of the 2016 Writer’s Digest Conference. Having never attended a book launch, I was surprisingly unsure of what to expect – what my etiquette should be as an attendee and what would even happen AT the launch. Here’s what I learned last Friday.

13895485_1366391106708939_4282586230696847159_nWhat happens at a book launch: Arriving at the launch, there’s a large stack of freshly printed DIY MFA books sitting ready to go for people to purchase. A table is set up for signings, a podium with a microphone stares down several rows of chairs already filling with writers and readers alike.

The author is introduced by an agent, the publisher, someone in connection with their book. After some applause, the author introduces their work, talks about their journey to writing and producing the work, and thanks influential people in their life. Generally, they do this without falling into the Bill Clinton trap of recounting every detail of your life in real time. And then, the author reads, in this case only for twenty minutes or so.

After the author reads, some people in the audience may be allowed to ask questions before the author is whisked away to the table to begin signing books (see below for my copy!!) and meeting fans and giving out a little bit of free swag (buttons, stickers, those kinds of things). All in all, it was a pretty low-key and fun event!

Things I learned as an attendee:13932799_1366412393373477_2450192984722850908_n

  1. People are friendly – I’m very introverted, and for the first half hour, I just tried to stay out of everyone’s way. I was clearly young for the crowd of the conference, and also one of the only people not officially attending WDC 16. However, in line for the signing I ended up having a nice chat with Joel Knopf and I had several other nice conversations with authors as I was leaving. It turns out everyone just wants to talk about writing at writing conferences (big surprise) and how much they love the author of the book launch (surprise #2). I’m really looking forward to attending more conferences now!
  2. Don’t be afraid of the author – I mean, it could just be Gabriela Pereira’s the only nice author out there, but probably not. I was really nervous getting my book signed but it turns out she was just as nervous meeting all her readers and giving the reading (she even apologized that her hands were shaking when trying to sign the book)! Authors are people who just want others to like their books and like them too. It helped for me to come up with what I wanted to say the day before (particularly which compliment I was actually going to say out of the 6,000 I have stored up).
  3. Business cards are effective blister block in a pinch – When walking through the hot city in tall boots and ankle socks, one might get blisters. Luckily, the thick card stock of a business card is flexible enough to bend around your heel and, given the heat, was also willing to stay in place when tucked into the sock. Business cards also work for trading information with people you might be interested in getting to know better… hey, to each their own.

Things of note for a host:

  1. Sound could easily be a problem – people are loud and don’t necessarily stop talking just because the author has gotten up to speak. Try to pick a venue where the acoustics work in your favor and where you will definitely have access to a sound system of some kind – otherwise you might as well give up hope of being heard over the crowd.
  2. Practice that reading – Nothing seems to be more nerve-wracking than reading words aloud in front of other people. Practice, practice, practice! Practice so that you don’t speed through it, stumble over your words, or mumble. The more you practice, the less likely you are to make mistakes, and the more likely you are to be loud and slow enough. You’ll develop a good cadence and tone for the section you’re reading and you’ll get cozy with it so that, even when you make that one mistake on reading day, it’s easy to pick up where you left off.
  3. Take care when choosing the venue – obviously, having your book about craft launch in the middle of a writer’s conference is genius. For the rest of us, important considerations could be: accessibility (is it close to any major transportation routes like subways or trains?), availability (are there any other big events going on for your readers that weekend?), and even time of day depending on the season (the city boils people alive in the summer so an evening, where it’s beginning to cool, might better entice readers out of their air-conditioned homes and to your launch)

Have any of you ever been to a book launch – or hosted one? What are your words of advice for newbie attendees and hosts?

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DIY MFA: Iteration Update – Running

13925069_1366323253382391_39197811937142014_nSo my first iteration didn’t work out perfectly which, actually, was expected. If you recall, in my post from August 1 I said:

“For my first two weeks, Aug 1 to Aug 14, I will be travelling between my former home and new home, so I’ve decided to test the input of light exercise over factors I think are actually more important to my writing (like place, writing time, and music/noise) which I cannot control given my extended travel. Each day before writing, I will stretch and take a ten minute run (hey, it’s hot out okay?) to see if that unsettles or invigorates me.”

Yeah, not only was I travelling between my former home and new home, we’re also experiencing a heat wave and I traveled to NYC, too. The times that I did actually run, I found that my ability to focus on writing was unusually high afterwards. But that likely had something to do with the fact that I was already feeling pretty motivated that day since, you know, I worked up the energy to go running and all (correlation not causation, anyone?). Unfortunately, most days the running didn’t happen and so the writing never got started either. Bummer.

For the next two weeks, however, I will be home and better able to get into a routine. I’ll be trying something new from Aug 15 to Aug 30, this time the input of ‘time of day’. Each day at 3:30 p.m. I’m going to try writing for an hour with no distractions. I picked this for two reasons – it’s a really easy goal to keep track of (set an alarm – you can’t procrastinate!) and also on an email suggestion from a blog follower who said “I just had a chance to read this [DIY MFA post] and wanted to offer a couple of things that work for me when I’m “frozen.”… I’ve determined that writing comes easiest during a certain time period, for me that’s from mid-morning through early afternoon. So if I can, I start writing these during this period.”

Thanks, John, for the advice! I’m hopefully going to try this iteration at a couple different times of day throughout the next few months to see what works best as grad school begins and the like. Many writers have discussed the importance of time of day to their writing routine; Ernst Hemingway said “When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there.”

Do any of you write better at certain times of day – or find writing is impossible too early in the morning or late at night?

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Biopoetics: Dicotyledons

First published in Mind Murals, page 10, Spring 2016. Listen to it read aloud here.

Photo by George Wesley and Bonita Dannells entitled ‘Maple seeds – the samara’ (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic), link through photo

The poem is the only shape poem I’ve ever attempted, but I was inspired by the uniquely beautiful shape of the double samara – the ‘helicopter’ fruit. These seeds are characteristic of dicots (short for dicotyledons), so named because they have two (di) cotyledons (small leaves inside the seed that are the first “leaves” to appear after germination).

In sugar maples, these cotyledons store food/nutrients for the seed and, once the seed germinates, photosynthesize until true leaves can grow. I feel the poem is a bit misleading (unintentionally) where it says ‘abs orb nutrients’; I meant only that nutrients were packed into the cotyledons as they were formed – that they absorbed nutrients as the fruit grew. I learned later that some monocots (mono = one cotyledon) actually have cotyledons that absorb food stored elsewhere in the completely formed seed. In comparison to the story of monocots, I feel this line could be easily misconstrued.

When the germinated seedling gains its first true leaves, they appear broad and almost rounded compared to the cotyledons thinness and do not yet have the class sugar maple leaf shape. Following the left side of the poem, we learn that sugar maple seedlings can germinate in a thick layer of ‘humus’. Humus is a dark soil composed of decaying plant and animal matter, making it nutrient rich and good at retaining moisture while also remaining well-drained. It’s generally considered an excellent soil type for sugar maple growth.

Following the right side of the poem, we see the seed germinating. The radicle “root” is the first part of the seedling to emerge during germination. The radicle pushes down through the seed coat and snakes through the soil to find water and set up a root system, eventually growing large enough to be the tree’s ‘tap root’. The radicle grows via its apical meristem (a region of actively dividing cells that grows the tips of shoots and roots) at its tip, helping it to bury deep into the soil and look for water. This water allows for the rise of other tissues as the seedling grows larger (like true leaves, sweet for their photosynthetic production of carbohydrates). Each seed generates one radicle root and it is white in color since, like other roots, it stays underground and does not photosynthesize.

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‘Bee’ Reviewed: Soil

Nyx: I will let you take pictures of me only when the book you want a photo of is grey and in shadows.

This week on ‘Bee’ Reviewed is Tim Cresswell’s Soil, a poetry collection packed with detritus and reference to place, be it urban or natural. Tim Cresswell is a poet and geographer from Britain and Soil is his debut collection of poetry. I typically try not to write negative reviews, but unfortunately this collection mostly wasn’t my speed (but who knows – it could be yours!).

Each of Cresswell’s poems very clearly evokes a feeling of place, be it the airport, the countertop in an urban home, a mine fallen into disrepair, or the forest floor. We are moved constantly as Cresswell chooses to relocate us; the result of this constant relocation is that most poems failed to engage me sufficiently in their singular world before I am forced to move on, even if I revisit similar locales several times throughout the book. I would have preferred some grouping – which this collection could have used on the whole, from the very beginning of the process (to the level of which poems made it into the book, not just their order of display). It was very difficult for me to draw enough connections between poems to find any overall thread to really unite the poems, making me feel like this was a ‘hodgepodge’ more than a ‘collection’.

Cresswell has incredibly sparse language; while sometimes this was evocative in a very concise way, many times I found it dissatisfying – particularly with poems like “Footnote”, “Feverfew”, and part 20 of the longest poem “Soil”. I might even refer to some of these poems as straight lists of related terms. The almost cheeky brevity and lack of unique language in some poems, especially when contrasted with the beautiful language and imagination in their neighbors, was off-putting and made the collection feel unbalanced.

Cresswell incorporates some biology and a lot of scientific information about soil. Similar to my comment about his concise language, many of this information was simply dropped like a paragraph from a textbook into the middle of the book. This was jarring, and felt somewhat lazy, especially compared to beautiful poems like “Rare Metallophytes,” which incorporates its science in such a subtle, poetic way that you hardly realize it’s there. Indeed, some parts of “Soil” were acknowledged to be directly pulled from a song; while I’ve nothing against incorporating the work of others on occasion, the frequency to which this and the information-dropping occurred left me annoyed that I hadn’t just picked up a textbook on the history and importance of soil instead.

Overall, I would recommend this book to people who love reading the poetry of place and don’t mind a ‘collection’ of poetry where each poem must be appreciated very independently of its fellows. If your mind can very quickly switch from one task to another you may find this series less jarring than I did, and thus more enjoyable. Those who really enjoy brevity in their poems, choice language that surprises and can make you laugh, poetry in and about urban places, and, of course, soil, will probably appreciate this book. Those who like to immerse themselves in a flowing narrative will be disappointed.

A special shout out to the poems “Rowan”, “Metaphor”, and “On entering the home of the bourgeois intelligentsia for the first time” all of which, with “Rare Metallophytes” made me glad I’d picked up the book despite its many shortcomings.

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DIY MFA Part 2: My Big Kid Pants Don’t Fit… Yet

Excuse me, Provost? Yes, I think there must be some mistake. I thought I ordered ‘Big Kid Pants’ for graduation but all I got was this shapeless gown and a funny hat with a tassel.

When I was a young girl, I despised writing… book reports (hah, gotcha). In fourth grade when my mother discovered I had neglected to write over twenty, one-page reports for a book we were reading in class, first she sat me down and made me write them. With her. All night. And second, every day on the way to school, she made me say ‘I love writing book reports. I love writing book reports.’ fifty times over in the car.

Fascinatingly, eight years later I became an English major who elected to take extra lit classes.

If anything in life were to show me the simple power of the pen, that moment was it. With words you can rewrite your world. You make the world what you tell yourself it can be.

In the DIY MFA mindfulness manifesto, we are given several principles to digest that make good sense to me: your resistance to a project could mean it will be a breakthrough project, writer’s block doesn’t exist, don’t compound your failure with feelings of guilt, and one writer’s best practice may not (likely will not) be yours. These all seem like good tools to have in a mental toolbox for motivating oneself to write, to write the way you do best, and to write without guilt.

But I struggled with some of Pereira’s phrasing – particularly “Sometimes you desperately want to write but you just… can’t…when you sit down to write, you freeze.” Pereira states that the solution to this bewildering resistance is to ‘put on your big-kid pants and write’. You and what words, Pereira? Seriously, though – how?

 I know this feeling of freezing, having written about that anxiety in my post on The Perpetual Writer’s Block. Unfortunately ‘just writing’ when frozen is as alien a notion to me as asking a drowning man to put on his big-kid pants and just breathe.

Trust me, if that was an option, I would.

Hopefully, Pereira expounds on this foundational principle later in the book – on how to get your big-kid pants on and break the ice, so to speak. However, I sense this is the attitude of a senior writer speaking almost condescendingly to a novice, forgetting the distinct helplessness of those fledgling moments. I believe it is the practice, practice, practice that Pereira rightly espouses later in the orientation section that teaches one how to break the ice (or avoid it altogether), not any momentary mental gymnastics. Just like my mantra on book reports took eight years to turn me into an English major, so too does learning to break the writing freeze take considerable time and effort.

Writing daily is like repeating the mantra ‘I can write at will’ in your head and the more you do it, the less likely you are to get frozen. Unfortunately, the point when you may be most frozen – as a novice – is when you have the least support, community, etc to help you ‘put on your big kid pants’ and move forward. Younger writers must be given real strategy, not condescending metaphor, to train themselves to get past these frozen moments. This may be especially important for young hopefuls coming out of academia where external motivators were a sole source of motivation and, without pressing deadlines, these post-education writers are forced to suddenly develop sufficient internal motivation overnight.

Are you a senior writer who still struggles with the feeling of being frozen – a junior writer who has uncovered tactics for pushing on past the ice? Share your tips with me below – I’d love to hear them. Until then, I’ll just practice, practice, practice!

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