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Posts Tagged ‘amwriting

Getting “in the zone.”

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Once upon a time, I was a teenage band geek. And I was hardcore, baby. Our band competed on a national level. We had an interstate rival, used to do physical work outs, the whole bit. I learned more life skills in that class than I did in all of my other activities combined – how to be organized, change plans on the fly, be productive in downtime.

Band is also where I learned to focus. I used to plug myself  into my Walkman, and play a cassette full of inspirational music. By the time I got through side A, I’d be so focused on the task at hand that an alien attack wouldn’t break my concentration. It was kind of scary – our bus would transform from a typically loud and obnoxious bunch of teenagers to a silent machine in the space of about twenty minutes.

Time passes, and old habits fall away. But sometimes I find myself back “in the zone” when I am writing. Have you ever written  something, and read it later to find that the words will look strange, foreign, as if someone else wrote them? It’s eerie.

My biggest frustration is that I can no longer seem to control this ability. There are simply days where I have a hard time falling into that writing trance.

Does anyone else do this when they write? If so, how do you get into “the zone?”

Written by Jen Szymanski

September 25, 2012 at 8:45 am

TL; DR or Why I Fear Not the Tumblr

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Lovecraft and Poe: would they have played well on Tumblr?

Look out writers, Tumblr is in tha’ house. Assuming the Mayans are wrong, and we make it to the end of 2012, “Tumblr” is set to overtake “blog” in Google searches by the end of 2012. Is this the end of blogging as we know it? Is even a 500 word post going to qualify for TL;DR (“too long, didn’t read”) status?

Ever since Nicholas Carr’s 2008’s hand wringing article on how Google is changing the way we think appeared in The Atlantic, we’ve worried about what is technology doing to us and whether  we are witnessing the death of communication as we know it. We fret that texting lingo and cramming thoughts into 140 characters on Twitter has irrevocably changed publishing. And blogging? Don’t get us started. Blogging takes too much work, says society. Social media is the way to go.

To make matters worse, in bursts Tumblr to kick writers while we’re down. For those of you who aren’t one of the approximately 65 million who run a Tumblr micro-blog, a big chunk of the content is visual. Photos, videos, are easily shared, and reblogged. Because of its social media aspect,  (blogged items from users you follow come into your view via a dashboard,) quotes, text, and links can be easily lost. But I say don’t throw flowers on my blog’s casket just yet.

Here’s why: I adore Tumblr. I admit it. I love the insane GIFs, the unfettered human emotion. The creativity (oh, the joyous celebration of creativity!) The chaos of some Tumblrs,  the focused nature of others. And I think “traditional” bloggers can learn from it. I think if I’m going to be serious about writing, I need to do as some of the microbloggers on Tumblr do. If you want to make an impact on Tumblr, you need to do it creatively, boldly, and in as few words as possible. So I write. And revise, trying to paint as visual as a picture as I can with as few words as possible. To be brave, creative. To accept feedback (even the less than flattering variety.) And live to blog another day.

What do you think? Do Tumblr and Twitter “count” as blogging (as some have suggested?) Do you have a Tumblr? If so, how do you use it – to promote your blog? Or to just be creative?


Written by Jen Szymanski

September 17, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Telepathy Not Required

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(Author’s note: trigger warning for quotes from Stephen King’s It concerning sexual abuse.)

Looking back on my childhood reading habits, I realize that I was a terrible “girl.” As a young lassie growing up in the 80s, I should have gone to Beverly Cleary Elementary, moved on to Judy Blume Middle School, and graduated with honors from Sweet Valley High. (Full disclosure: I did read these authors. I read just about everything I could get my hands on.) But none of them spoke to me, inspired me to write. When I grew up, I wanted to write like Stephen King.

Stephen King is not a purveyor of  fine “literature.” He’ll tell you so himself. Fancy prose and valuable life lessons are not the point (though there are some mini philosophy lessons woven into his tales if you’re paying attention.)

The reason I relate to his stories? Psychology. Inner voice. Often it’s more about what his characters don’t say than what they do. Thanks to italics, we’re privy to what they think: what’s motivating the girl chained to the bed, or the dad trying to save his son from the monsters that have overrun the supermarket. It’s why most Stephen King movies, honestly, kind of suck. Because what makes his books scary is about the insanity within.

I relate to this. When I can’t sleep at night, it’s the thoughts running through my head that keep me from dozing. During the daylight hours, it’s having to quell the impulse to do something utterly irrational that makes me wonder if I’m crazy. And it’s scary as hell.

An example, if you will indulge me.

Beverly Marsh, one of the characters in It, suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her father. He excuses his behavior by telling her he’s just “worried about her.” Bevvie’s mother is no fool – she knows something’s not quite right in her little domestic circle, but she’s not ready to confront it. In this excerpt, Beverly is also awakening to the fact that her father’s concern for her is more than just paternal love.

“Bevvie, does he ever touch you?”

“What” Beverly looked at her mother, totally perplexed. God, her father touched her every day. “I don’t get what you -”

“Never mind,” Elfrida said shortly. “Don’t forget the trash. And if those windows are streaked, you won’t need your father to give you blue devil.”

“I won’t

(does he ever touch you)


“And be in before dark.”

“I will.”

(does he)

(worry an awful lot)

(It, p. 403)

King could have written in agonizing detail about Beverly’s thoughts and motivations. He did not. Instead, we get to experience what she is thinking directly. In my opinion, it’s more visceral, more moving than a paragraph of prose. It just works.

And it’s influenced me. In my novel (don’t tell me that you’re a blogger and don’t have at least the inner workings of novel or potential novel on your hard drive, or you can add “liar” to your c.v.), my protagonist is a teacher who wakes up one day to find that overnight the world has changed. Early in the story, she’s not sure exactly how – but it’s beginning to dawn on her that she’s a little different than everyone else. Here’s a brief passage in which she realizes she’s not in charge of her classroom anymore:

“Sit down, Mr. Frye.” He didn’t appear to hear her, but just continued moving toward her, the look in his eyes intense, and…something else… fear?

“Biggie, PLEASE return to your seat.” The buzzing got even louder, roaring, crashing, her head pounding in rhythm to the throbbing of the noise. Blackness started to creep into her peripheral vision. Hal’s dry, reasonable voice fled.


The boy stopped as if frozen, and the buzzing cut off abruptly, switched off. That was when the laughter began.

There was no other way for me to write how Julia was feeling. Maybe it’s because of the way I read – quickly, pulling the gist from large description filled paragraphs in my haste to get to what happens next. Maybe it’s a reflection of my nature, impatient, mercurial. Or maybe it’s just mental release. Whatever it is, I’m heartened to know that it works.

Written by Jen Szymanski

September 13, 2012 at 9:59 am