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Michelle's Musings

Off to a Great Start for 2024!

My, my, my. Apparently, karma was at play when I wrote my last year-end blog about gratitude for my 2023 writing accomplishments. I placed a positive spin on the realities of the writing business in which rejection is the norm by discussing the significance of validation beyond publication or contest wins. I expressed optimism that, despite the sea of rejections, one of my submissions would be accepted. And lo and behold, within two weeks of posting my blog, I received a congratulatory email for a poem I entered into the 2023 Writer's Digest annual poetry competition. It was selected as a top-20 winner out of nearly one thousand submissions from around the world.


Karma, karma, karma!


It took a little convincing on my part to realize that the email congratulating me on my win was not spam. Even after opening it and reading it a couple of times, I wasn't entirely certain until I noticed the citation of my poem's title. After digesting this great news, I thought about potential reasons the editors found my poem compelling. I wrote about the Middle Passage as an exercise for my poetry class after I learned disturbing information in my heritage that affiliated me with the start of the Transatlantic Slave Triangle. From the 16th through 19th centuries, European goods were transported to Africa (first leg of the triangle) in exchange for slaves who were then transported across the Atlantic to the Americas. This second leg, known as the Middle Passage, was especially heinous. The third leg consisted of the conveyance to Europe of goods produced on plantations.


As I delved deeper into this history, I developed an overwhelming sense of grief for those negatively impacted by the atrocities of the Middle Passage. The notion of my ancestors playing a significant role in its success disturbed me to the point that I felt compelled to write this poem. I'd recently learned of the Writer's Digest annual poetry contest, and I contemplated submitting my poem for consideration. But I wanted to first get feedback from my fellow students.


Because of the backlog of class submissions, along with the imminent contest deadline, I ended up turning in the original piece to Writer's Digest before it was critiqued. Eventually, I read my poem in class and received positive feedback. While I was not enamored with making the suggested changes, I revised it anyway and set it aside for possible submission elsewhere. Meanwhile, I learned I'd inadvertently submitted for Writer's Digest's early deadline. Had I realized this beforehand, I most likely would not have turned in the original piece and instead submitted the revised one for the later deadline. All this is to say, the stars were definitely aligned in my favor.


A recent online forum from one of my writing organizations discussed the merits of the well-known adage, "write what you know." If I were interviewed about my winning entry, I would say "write what you're passionate about" because this is exactly the mindset with which I wrote this poem. If you are enthusiastic about something, let others experience that enthusiasm through your writing. If your work moves you, there's a good chance it will move others.


In addition to publication, I'll also receive a small cash award, which makes the win even more special. I'll provide updates when I learn the details of publication (around late spring/early summer), but I cannot be more energized about my writing ventures for 2024!

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Going There

As much as I love writing, I'm finding it difficult to sit down for more than an hour at a time to write my memoir. While the process is cathartic to an extent, dredging up lots of emotional content also leaves me spent. Unfortunately, I have significant blocks in my recall; but as I keep pressing ahead, repressed memory sneaks to the forefront of my consciousness, leaving me surprised to learn that some elements of my upbringing were worse than I initially thought.


Even after taking a break, I find myself falling back to old habits of procrastination because of my reluctance to dig deep and really "go there." Sometimes my recollections are so vivid I see certain scenes as though they were taking place right before my eyes. I recently attended a lecture via Zoom that addressed caring for the psyche when writing emotionally charged material in which the speaker suggested memoirists pay attention to emotional cues and take frequent breaks, even if doing so results in a shorter than usual writing session.


I feel less productive with shorter sessions; however, some of those resurfaced memories provide an almost exponentially greater amount of inspiration to write (which is manna for any writer). Another positive is the inherent therapeutic benefit as well as the growing ease with which I'm able to identify my true sentiments about the chaos that was my early years. I'm more comfortable with being honest about those feelings even when they reveal my own prejudices and vulnerabilities.


Truthfulness is a critical component of memoir writing. While none of us has had the perfect upbringing, it is in the discovery of and reckoning with my truth that I find motivation to keep writing and, ultimately, conclude with a satisfying transformation.

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