300 words a day

For one week, I tried to write an hour each morning before I went to work. Setting a minimum writing time, though, didn’t work for me. After a few days, I was bored and still not satisfied with how my creative nonfiction piece was progressing.

The next week, after I finished reading Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott, I decided to try a word count goal instead. I considered trying to write 500 words a day. But I realized that I am a fairly concise writer and would struggle to hit my goal often. I opted for 300 words a day instead.

I was a little embarrassed—300 seemed so small. But I remembered that I had never written on a daily basis before. A year ago, when I was in college studying journalism and creative nonfiction writing and I never had a routine at all. Mostly, I procrastinated until one or two days before a first draft was due, wait around for inspiration, then ended up forcing 1,000 or 2,000 words in the three hours before the class where it was due.

The first few days, it actually took me an hour to write 300 words. I would go back and delete extraneous words and phrases from my draft before I started writing. I know this goes against all writing advice. I know your writing and editing brain are different and should be activated in separate sittings. But at least I was hitting 300.

Again, I looked toward Anne Lamott’s book for guidance—the “Shitty First Drafts” chapter in particular. By Saturday, I was able to stop myself when I went into editing mode. When I wasn’t going back and deleting material, I was able to write over 500 words in an hour.

But I’m going to stick to 300 words.

Setting a goal I won’t always achieve works for a lot of the things I do: running, healthy eating, reading. But it doesn’t work for writing. I need a goal I can achieve every day, even when it’s hard and I don’t feel like working on it at all. To many, 300 words per day probably sounds very small. But this requirement ensures I produce 2,100 words every week at a minimum and at least 109,200 words per year. Even when I’m sick or it’s a holiday or I’m traveling, I know I can produce 300 words.

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Read what you want

I read 29 books in 2017 and five so far in 2018. Some were incredible. Others were not. But in the process of reading so many different books (about one per week since June 2017, when I started my Alternative Grad School project), I’ve learned so much about the books that draw me in.

Throughout much of last year, I obsessively read self-help books. I had just graduated from college and was looking to figure out how I wanted to live the rest of my life. I read almost 10, but they left me without answers. I read about authors who lived alternative lifestyles, traveled a lot and worked for themselves. They seemed to have everything they wanted and so I set a goal of being like them. Still, the books felt repetitive to the point of being cliche and I grew bored.

I later shifted toward reading memoirs of people I admired. Their books showcased their successes but, more importantly, they exposed the long series of missteps and failures happened came first.

Since January 1, 2018, I’ve read four absolutely incredible books: The Lonely City by Olivia Laing, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coats, Just Kids by Patti Smith, and Milk & Honey by Rupi Kaur. Each one of them taught me more than 10 self-help books could.

In the past, I tried not to read books simply because they were popular (these all made the New York Times Bestseller List); I mixed fiction and nonfiction equally (as someone with a background in journalism, I’m naturally drawn to nonfiction and I’ve started to just accept that); I read books on a wide range of subjects, trying not to read too many on one subject (reading topics that interest me creates continuity and keep me reading).

I am trying to say that you should read what you want. Disregard what and how you think you should read. Seek out books that keep you reading and keep you learning. That is all.

 

A complete list of books I read in 2017

The following is a complete list of books I read in 2017, separated by category and then ranked. Books I consider must-reads and would recommend to just about anyone are in bold.

Nonfiction books/books that taught me a lot:

  1. Art & Fear, David Bayles and Tedd Orland
  2. Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer
  3. Upstream, Mary Oliver
  4. Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy
  5. Utopia for Realists, Rutger Bregman
  6. Postville: A Clash of Cultures in the American Heartland, Stephen G. Bloom
  7. Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite, William Deresiewicz
  8. David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell
  9. Everybody Writes, Ann Handley
  10. The Creating Brain, Nancy Andreason
  11. The Four Tendencies, Gretchen Rubin
  12. The Gig Economy, Diane Mulcahy

Books on living your best life/productivity:

  1. Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed
  2. The Art of Non-Conformity, Chris Guillebeau
  3. Deep Work, Cal Newport
  4. Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, Shunryu Suzuki
  5. Born for This, Chris Guillebeau

Memoir:

  1. Wild, Cheryl Strayed
  2. The Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls
  3. The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy
  4. The Bright Hour, Nina Riggs
  5. Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Other Essays, Paul Kingsnorth
  6. Tell Me If You’re Lying, Sarah Sweeney
  7. South and West, Joan Didion

Fiction:

  1. The Butcher Boy, Patrick McCabe
  2. The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
  3. The Gangster of Love, Jessica Hagedorn
  4. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
  5. The Gathering, Anne Enright

10-day vacation for TWO with only ONE carry-on bag

 I love budget travel. I ride the cheapest airlines, sleep in 12-bed rooms, and use the hostel kitchen to cook half my meals. Some people might look at it as giving a lot of things up, compared to how they typically travel. And it’s true, I sacrifice a lot of comforts and sleep to do things this way.
At the same time, though, I think taking cost-cutting measures is rewarding. One of my favorite ways time and money is to travel minimally, packing only what I really need to get by.
For our 10-day trip to Amsterdam, Hamburg, and Berlin, my boyfriend and I flew with WOW, a super cheap airline that doesn’t offer a free carry on or a checked bag at all.
Of course, for a trip that long, especially in November we needed at least one piece of luggage. We opted to keep things cheap and simple by sharing this hiking backpack between the two of us.
Here is a complete list of everything I brought along, including everything I was wearing and what was in my free hand item, a pretty average size leather purse. My boyfriend brought a laptop bag (without a laptop inside) as a hand item and filled the remaining space in the backpack with clothes.

 

Carry on (including what I was wearing): 
  • 1 QT liquids bag: Soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, toothpaste, BB cream
  • Deodorant, makeup (mascara, lipstick, eyeshadow, eyeliner, BB cream), toothbrush, ear swabs, chapstick
  • Power converter, cell phone charger
  • GoPro, GoPro charger, mounts
  • SIM card tool
  • Water bottle
  • Laundry detergent, dryer sheets
  • Prescriptions, ibuprofen
  • Padlock
  • Clothing
    • Socks (3 pairs)
    • Tights (2)
    • Underwear (4)
    • Plain black Leggings (1)
    • Skirts (2)
    • Black dress
    • Shirts (3)
    • Sweater
    • Sports bra, bra
    • Coat
    • Balaclava
    • Winter hat
  • All of Ethan’s clothes
Hand item:
  • Passport
  • A book
  • Journal, pen
  • DSLR camera
  • Phone with “phone wallet” for cards and cash
  • Earbuds
And that’s really everything!
Sharing a majority of the bathroom products and our chargers saved a lot of room. But I would say the real secret was reducing the number of clothing items we brought. We saved a lot of space by doing laundry during our trip. Both of us ended up pretty sick of wearing the same few outfits but we felt it was worth the sacrifice not to be burdened by big, heavy bags wherever we went. I would recommend traveling this way to anyone. It’s shockingly stress-free and keeps you super mobile so your stuff never holds you back.

Back at it

I graduated from the University of Iowa in May, which caused me to lose access to a lot of their amazing film equipment… but I just bought a Braun NovoScan 120 film scanner so I can finally make digital copies of my images again.

I’m still getting used to it, and I’ve been having trouble getting the colors right. The scanner makes almost all of the adjustments automatically. Ektar is so saturated, I’m sure that’s throwing off the colors completely. Or maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always had this issue while scanning Ektar.

I won’t write a review of this scanner until I try using it with some other (more scanner-friendly) films. I just wanted to get some images posted on my blog to celebrate the fact I’m back in action.

All of the following images were created in La Porte City, Iowa using a Mamiya 645 1000s camera and Kodak Ektar 100 film.

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Alternative Grad School September update

I’ve been trying hard to keep up with my goals as I started my full-time position. It was difficult the first month when I was first starting my new job, of course, but I feel like I’ve really started to adjust and am learning how to accomplish more tasks after 5:00 p.m. and on the weekends.

Since I wrote my last list, I’ve read the following books, putting me at a total of three fiction books and 10 nonfiction:

  • The Gathering by Anne Enright
  • Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Shunryū Suzuki
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  • David & Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Everybody Writes by Ann Handley
  • Deep Work by Cal Newport
  • The Gangster of Love by Jessica Hagedorn
  • The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

And I can now communicate in very basic Spanish. Hopefully, I’ll have the opportunity to travel and use it soon.

The biggest news is that I’ve totally completed one Alt. Grad School goal: Publish three freelance stories. All three were published in Iowa City alternative press magazine Little Village in 2017.

  • Profile of Jane Elliott, an anti-racism advocate famous for her Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes exercise she performed in her 3rd-grade classroom the day after Martin Luther King Jr. died. Jane is 85 and has lived in Iowa her whole life. I had the privilege of interviewing her in her home in Osage.
  • Profile of Bridget Fonseca, a 24-year-old who graduated from the University of Iowa and started an organic farm with her partner Jake Kundert.
  • Current affairs story about young women getting IUDs, a long-term birth control method, because of their fears about the changing healthcare system.

And one last goal I made headway on during these first two months… I’m training to run a 10K (6.2 mi) in 60 minutes or less. On Aug. 27, I completed my first 5-mile run and on Aug. 31, I was able to run 5 miles without taking any breaks to walk, which took about 55 minutes. This may not be a major feat for all runners, but it was big for me! I’ve been slowly increasing my running capacity over the last two years and it’s encouraging to see that, though very gradually, I was able to reach this point. I remember when two or three miles was a significant challenge. Reaching 6.2 miles in 60 minutes will require me to average faster than 10:00/mi, which will not be easy, but I’m confident I can get there by  June 1.

31-Day Challenge

March 1: My photography professor, Jeff Rich, recommended I look at the work of California photographer Jeff Brouws. Vintage signs, square frames, stunning colors: what’s not to love?

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March 2: Stephen Shore is another photographer my professor recommended I look at because he felt his work is similar to what I’ve been trying to achieve in my Once Familiar project. Every time I tried to pick a favorite to share here on my blog, I flipped to the next image and loved it even more.

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March 3: Brian Finke’s work is essentially a wide sociological representation of various groups: truckers, flight attendants, frat boys, etc. And his use of flash outdoors is flawless. Plus, he makes work for National Geographic, New York Times Magazine, ESPN Magazine—no big deal.

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March 4: Jennifer Greenburg inserts images of herself in found mid-20th century images to “hijack the memories.”

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March 5: British photographer Simon Roberts explored 200+ locations throughout Russia for his series Motherland.

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March 6: The following image is from Paul Shambroom’s Meetings Series for which he took photos of official meetings in small towns.

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March 7: Kyle Ford’s project Forever Wild is currently in progress. Click the image below to see some of the shots he’s created so far.

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March 8: I adore all of Lacey Criswell’s quirky Minnesota images. She clearly is a genius at finding remarkable locations.

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March 9: I’m always a fan of surreal photography though I don’t care to produce it myself.

New York City-based photographer Brooke Didonato is “influenced by the subconscious and its correlation to emotions and perceptions,” according to the bio on her site.

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March 10: Martha Rosler explores the implied freedom of major American roadways in her series Rights of Passage (which includes much better quality images in book form).

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March 11:  Many photographers probably know Alec Soth’s large format work, but I finally got my hands on a copy of Songbook. I’ll always be biased toward his book Sleeping by the Mississippi because I grew up on the Mississippi River in Iowa, but seeing his black and white work for Songbook was a new take.

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March 12: Stephanie Calabrese is largely an iPhone photographer who made this Georgia series featured by the New York Times. 

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March 13: EI just finished watching Manufactured Landscapes, a documentary of Edward Burtynsky photographing industry in China.

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March 14: Tom Wood photographed bus rides in Liverpool over a period of 20 years for his series Bus Odyssey.

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March 15:  Antti Janjunen is a London-based photographer I ran across while looking for examples of exposures made on Velvia on Instagram today.

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March 16: Margaret Morton made this documentary series about young people living in an abandoned glass factory in Manhattan.

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March 17: If you love vintage signs, Zack Vitiello’s Instagram is for you.

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March 18: In Juan Fernandez’ series Façade, he removes all distracting elements in Photoshop to create an increased sense of tension in his architecture shots.

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March 19: German photographer Elmar Ludwig’s zany work caught my eye in a used book store in Chicago last weekend called Our True Intent is All for Your Delight. Unfortunately, he’s slightly difficult to track down on the internet and I regret not buying it!

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March 20: John Hinde is an English photographer with a nostalgic feel, especially in postcard version.

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March 21: Tamara Reynolds explored transient town Oak Grove, Kentucky for this Oxford American project.

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March 22: Throwback to my angsty high school years when my all-time favorite photographer was Brooke Shaden. 

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March 23: Jennifer Bolande was commissioned to create billboards that matched their scenery. 

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March 24: Drone + Photoshop = Aydin Büyüktas’s photo manipulations 

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March 25: Homai Vyarawalla was a photojournalist at the time India became independent from the British Empire.

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March 26: Shelby Lee Adams is known as “Picture Man” among the locals he photographs in Kentucky.

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March 27: Lori Nix builds dioramas of imagined abandoned spaces for her project, The City.

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March 28: David Plowden tried to capture elements American heritage that are threatened to be erased by industry and progress.

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March 29: It’s impossible not to love the work of street photographer Elliot Erwitt.

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March 30: Recommended by Eirik Johnson, who is currently visiting the University of Iowa’s photography program, Robert Adams. How have I not heard of him before?! His photos are just my style.

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March 31: The series Animal Logic by Richard Barnes had me laughing out loud all the way through.

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Photographer Research 31-Day Challenge

At the beginning of January, a prompt in my Steal Like an Artist Journal encouraged me to begin a 31-day challenge. I love photography but don’t look at others’ work as often as I would like, so I decided to do some brief research on one photographer each day and ended up with my own little personally curated gallery of artists that inspire me.

NONE of these images are my own. Please click on the images to see them and other images in the series on the photographer’s websites.

January 1: Irving Penn
Irving Penn is a photographer best known for his fashion photography but also has several interesting side projects that are worth a look.

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January 2: Jon Horvath
His Pathetic Clouds series killed me.

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January 3: Andrew Borowiec
I see so much of what I’ve been trying to accomplish in my Iowa series in this Ohio photographer’s work.

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January 4: Kate Medley
Her work in the South is gorgeous. Unfortunately, her website doesn’t seem to be working right now, so I’ve linked to Oxford American.

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January 5: Francesca Woodman
Her black and white self portraits and long exposures continue to amaze years after her death by suicide.

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January 6: Chris McCaw
Long exposure sun images burn holes through the paper. In the image below, he used new paper every 30 minutes. Click the image to check out his site where you can see a wide range of techniques he used in his Sunburn project.

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January 7: Matthew Brandt
This L.A. photographer is known for making C-41 prints of lakes, then soaking them in the body of water depicted in the image.

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January 8: Rebecca Drolen
Rebecca Drolen’s work is uniquely surreal and witty.

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January 9: Stacey Baker
This photo editor started an Instagram account where she captures women’s legs on the streets of New York.

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January 10: Lucy Hilmer has taken a self portrait every year on her birthday since 1947 when she was 29 for her project “Birthday Suits.”

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January 11: Maia Flore
Check out Maia Flore’s website for fun, surreal images that will make you think.

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January 12: Gioia de Bruijn
This photographer finds traditional documentary photographer voyeuristic and instead believes in being involved in the situations she photographs.

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January 13: Lisa Elmaleh
Lisa Elmaleh shoots 8×10 wet plates of the Florida Everglades and develops them in a darkroom in the back of her truck.

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January 14: Susan Derges
This camera-less photographer makes photograms of the movement of water.

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January 15: Jens Knigge
German photographer Jens Knigge makes plantinum prints

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January 16: Keith Carter
For his book Uncertain to Blue, Keith Carter photographed small towns with odd names in Texas. This image is called Bebe.

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January 17:Michael Weitzman
I follow this alternative process photographer’s Instagram. He uses a wide range of techniques. The image below was produced with a toy camera.

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January 18: Kat Shannon
Today my photography professor showed us this “Girls in Uniform” series one of his former students, Kat Shannon, made and I instantly fell in love.

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January 19: Mauro D’Agati
I checked out Italian photographer Mauro D’Agati’s book Less Vegas. He visited Las Vegas for 10 days, following permanent residents around.

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January 20: Harry Callahan
Harry Callahan was a street photographer who was inspired by the look, though not so much the subject matter, of Ansel Adams. The image below is part of a series made in Chicago.

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January 21: Joel Sternfeld
Check out his American Prospects series for more of his witty sense of humor.

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January 22: William Christenberry
William Christenberry is known for his years-long projects taking pictures of Alabama buildings as they decay, but he also made work that exposed the evils of the KKK. He said that while some people told him that it wasn’t an appropriate subject for art, he said, “…I hold the position that there are times when an artist must examine and reveal such strange and secret brutality.”

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January 23: Gulnara Samoilova
Gulnara Samoilova used handcoloring to express the hidden elements of life in the USSR.

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January 24: Claude Cahun
Claude Cahun was a French transgender photographer who created Surrealist self-portraits illustrating various personas.

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January 25: Rose Marasco
I checked out Rose Marasco’s book New York City Pinhole Photographs and was amazed by the sense of motion in this fish market image.

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January 26: Justin Quinnell
Justin Quinnell made a pinhole camera that fit inside his mouth and photographed humorous situations for his series/book Mouthpiece.

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January 27:  Sandi Haber Fifield
If you’re interested in photomontage, take a look at this photographer’s beautiful, deliberate composites.

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January 28: Andrew Moore
This Omaha-based photographer takes stunning aerial photos of the Great Plains for his project Dirt Meridian. 

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January 29: Chris Verne
This rural Illinois photographer photographed his family and community since high school.

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January 30: Eirik Johnson
Eirik Johnson focused his series Sawdust Mountain on Northwestern identity and use of natural resources such as forests and salmon.

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January 31: Lois Bielefeld
Lois Bielefeld’s body of work The Bedroom is composed of 103 portraits of bedrooms and their owners.

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