Reflections on a young writing career by an old lady

Poetry by Kaye Lynne Booth

My regular readers know that I just spent the last two weeks taking the first classes toward earning my MFA in Creative Writing at Western State Colorado University, in Gunnison. It was an intense two weeks. The first week and a half I put in time in the classroom, making my brain explore uncharted territory in order to learn about my own writing style and process, as well as reinforcing and renewing my knowledge of writing basics, such as dialog punctuation, story structure, plot and character. When not in class, I spent my time actually writing and reading the writing of my peers for critique the following day. The last three days, I attended the 2012 Writing the Rockies conference, as a part of my college credits. How cool is that? The intense pace didn’t really bother me until after I had returned home and gone back to work, but let me assure you that it did catch up to me. I have been exhausted all week, twice actually falling asleep with my laptop in my lap. I was that tired.
While considering whether or not to enroll in Western’s MFA program, there were many things to consider. Could I fit a two week residency in Gunnison each summer into my already bustling schedule? Could I commit the time that it would require to get my master’s degree and still fulfillment my obligations to my family as I have for the past thirty years? And what, exactly, did I hope to accomplish through seeking this degree? Did I think I would be magically transformed into a professional writer once I have that degree in my hand?
I had to do some sincere soul searching to find the answers to all my concerns. While I will surely have to do some rearrangement of my schedule to accommodate residency classes each summer, and I will have to forfeit certain activities that I enjoy in order to study and practice my craft and complete assignments, to me it will be worth it. My hope is that I will come away from this experience with credentials that will demonstrate that I’m not just someone who dabbles as a writer, but a serious author with at least one published book. I don’t expect this to happen through a magical transformation, but through hard work and lots of practice. In the end, it came down to one thing: I want to be a writer more than anything else in the world, so it would be worth whatever sacrifices I had to make to achieve that status. It is how I want to make my living, and I have played around enough at it. It is time to get serious and do what I aspire to do.
Now, with the first classes finished, I have to look at whether my expectations have been met, what I’ve already had to sacrifice, and whether it was worth it. In order to analyze all of this, I also need to examine what I actually learned, and evaluate its value to determine if the payoff is what I had expected. To that end, I thought I might share my thoughts and insights with you, my readers.
By looking at my current resume, you will see that I’ve already taken many steps toward my goal. I have written as the Southern Colorado Literature Examiner for the past three years, as well as keeping up this blog, Writing to be Read, for about five. In addition, I wrote gardening how-to articles for Demand Studios for over a year and a half, had two short stories published in Static Motion, an online publication, and a poem published in Dusk and Dawn magazine, where I made my first $5.00 as a writer, back in 1996. Another of my poems was featured by artist Mitch Barrett, in one of his paintings, Intimacy, which was displayed and sold at Kaleidoscope Gallery, in Batter Sea Park, London. My first children’s book, Heather Hummingbird Makes a New Friend, is scheduled to be released in October of 2012, by 4RV Publishing, as well. So, you see, I have a little bit of a head start on this writing thing, although none of it has paid enough for me to give up my day job.
So, did I come away with from these first classes with anything of value? I believe I did. For one thing, I gained insight into myself as a writer, aspects that I had never examined closely before. For instance, I discovered that I am a closet binge writer. I knew that I wasn’t much for planning, which is probably why I have not been able to make it beyond the short story format. Novels require planning and you have to truly know your characters to make your readers believe in them. Binge writers take an idea and run with it, and that is what I do a lot of the time. It seems that when I try to plan out what I’m going to write, it comes out flat and lifeless, as if the work were forced. So, this is one area that I definitely have to work on. That’s one thing that I learned.
I also learned many basic concepts that are sure to improve my writing style. In fact, they already have. Our assignment to write a novel excerpt in the western genre produced the beginnings of a story narrative, the likes of which, I did not realize that I was capable of. The class might be over, but my work to develop this story is only beginning. Two paragraphs in a genre we had never before written in lead to an epiphany about a YA story that I had written four or five years ago, which was missing something that I couldn’t put my finger on, so I had never done anything with it. The challenge to write in a new genre prompted me to try my hand at mystery, and it suddenly dawned on me that this story should have been a mystery to begin with. That’s what had been missing! The resulting two paragraphs featured the characters from the YA novel and read well enough to convince me it could work.
I gained knowledge about the writing business, as well. Some of the writing activities that I had engaged in, such as publishing with online sites that don’t pay, were cheating both myself and my profession. While I was glad just to have the writing credit, I could be setting myself up to have my work stolen, because it is out there where anyone can grab it. It may have been a mistake, but as a self-taught writer, I launched my writing career the only way that I knew how. I also learned that you really do need an agent, all the professional writers that we heard during class and conference agreed. The agent handles all the legalities of contract, which most writers are not qualified to do, unless prolific in contract law. The how of finding an agent promises to be revealed at a later date. And, I learned the differences between the large publishing houses and the smaller presses, and when to try for each.
In some ways, I had been doing the right things. I have always parked my butt in the chair and wrote, (a theme that had been reiterated over and over again during my brief educational introduction to the world of writing), blocking out the world around me for the sake of putting words to page. I found that although my dialog may set off alarms with spell check, it rings true and encourages reader “buy in”. I discovered that I had ability in areas that were previously untried for me, warranting continued exploration.
Above all, I learned how much I really don’t know. I look forward to exploring and discovering all that I still have left to learn, through Western’s MFA program. I can’t wait for my online classes to begin this fall. I think the payoff will be more than worth it.

To learn more about my work, visit my website at Kaye’s Literary Corner


What’s in a Poem?

When this blog was on the Today.com site, as I’ve mentioned before, I published a poem at the end of every post. In “Poetry Worth Noting” I reposted two poems written by others that I had posted on the old blog site, which received several views, making me think that perhaps the poetry is something that my readers might have an interest in. So, in this post, I will publish two of my own poems and tell you a little about the stories behind them. Please leave comments to let me know if this is something that you would like to see more of here, on Writing to be Read.

The first is called Voices and it really has a lot to do with the point where I really began to feel like a writer. I was preparing for the 2008 Fremont County Writers’ and Artists’ Fair. I had a table at the fair, but I had no book to sell, so I was putting each of my poems on an illustrated background for display. While looking for a suitable background for this particular poem, I discovered a painting, by artist Mitch Barrett, of the same name. I contacted the artist and obtain copyright permission to use his painting as the background for my poem. This was all very exciting for me for several reasons. First, the painting fit absolutely perfect with the content of the poem, with a central head, surrounded by faces that all seemed to be screaming at him. Second, this was the first time that I had every participated in any type of writing function, and I was beginning to feel like a “real” writer. And third, Mitch Barrett lives in England, and that is where he called me from. I was thrilled that this man would go out of his way to make an international call to me and grant me permission to use his work!

Voices

Is what I hear voices from above?
Or are they the voices of foolish love?

Sometimes they tell me to open my eyes,
And not believe your blatant lies.
Sometimes they tell me to forgive all.
At times they warn that I’m about to fall.

Sometimes they whisper, so I can barely hear.
Other times, they are so near
That it sounds as if they’re shouting in my head.
Sometimes they caution; I could end up dead.

They tell me I’m heading for dangerous ground,
Or tell me I shouldn’t have you around.
Sometimes they say I’m headed straight for the top.
Other times, they scream that I must stop.

They urge me to go faster,
Then they say slow way down.
They seem to speak most
When there’s no one around.

They tell me to do what I feel is right,
But then they say that it’s not worth the fight.
When I feel that my heart is shattered glass,
They say that I’d better get off my ass.

They that I might just think for a bit,
But they never allow me to give up or quit.
I listen, sometimes long into the night,
And they always say that I must do what is right.

They push me one way, then pull another.
Sometimes they sound just like my mother.
Often, I wonder if they’re from my past.
Sometimes, I long for silence at last.

Is what I hear voices from above?
Or are they the voices of foolish love?      

Background Painting by Mitch Barrett, Poetry by Kaye Lynne Booth

                                

The second poem that I would like to include here, came about because of Voices and that first initial contact with Mitch Barrett. Not long after the fair, Mitch contacted me about some paintings he was working on that he wanted to display with poetry, and he asked me to see what I could come up with to go with them. He explained what he was trying to do in the painting and sent me sketches of what the intended works would look like. This past summer, his painting, Intimacy went on display at the Kaleidoscope Gallery at Battle Sea Park, in London, featuring my poem, Intimacy and the Harlequin Dance. Just recently, the painting sold, which thrilled me to no end. It now has a home in Milan, I am told. It is a great painting, with my poetry, and there has been interest expressed by gallery owners of exhibiting more artwork/poetry combinations, so I may be collaborating with this talented artist again in the future.

Intimacy and the Harlequin Dance
By Kaye Lynne Booth

We dance through the masquerade of life
Disguised to fit the music
Of so many different melodies
That at times, we forget which tune
Holds the heartstrings of who we really are.

Then one day, we find the perfect dance partner,
But to attain the perfect rhythm
We must open ourselves up and reveal our souls.
Intimacy requires that we relinquish the mask
To expose the genuine self that lies beneath.

After all the years of dancing to false tunes
Will we be able to keep time
To the genuine dance and the original rhyme?
Or shall we don the mask once more and continue to
Keep time to the false melody of the Harlequin dance?

Intimacy and the Harlequin Dance

Painting by Mitch Barrett, Poetry by Kaye Lynne Booth