Saturday, December 28, 2013

all in a day’s mindset: tackling the to-dos

I’m a nerd. A to-do list nerd, especially. I like having a focus—or several—for the day and earning that sense of satisfaction when things get checked off the list.

Yet I’m continually refining the art of to-do list making. I go back and forth between paper and pen lists versus the kind I make in a Word document. Or a bullet point list on my phone. The tactile pleasure of the pen and paper route is great. There’s an added sense of accomplishment in physically striking something off the list. But the computer document has a great function, too, if I don’t let it get out of control: I can amend the day’s to-dos as I move along.

Where the computer doc causes trouble is two-fold: 1) I can continually add to-dos to the day, thus making it impossible to truly accomplish everything and 2) I tend to erase what I have accomplished, so at the end of the day all I see is what I haven’t done.

So I did an experiment this week (as I tend to do such things). I made a new document of to-dos and every time I completed a task, I crossed it out—rather than deleted the item. This was a test to see if I actually found more satisfaction in seeing what’s been done for the day. The result? Sure. There was some joy in seeing checked off items.

The real result, though, is the realization that no matter how I project my day’s activities, I always set overachieving goals. For whatever reason, I can’t bring myself to list just one or two things to do in a day. I aim high, do my best, and push the rest to the next day, or the next. It’s how I operate. And that’s okay. For me, it works. 

I love fantasizing about a super-organized life. One that has a place for everything, and where everything is in its place. One that has a to-do list of achievable goals for each day, and that’s checked off in true Martha Stewart fashion. But I’m not Martha. I’m me. Chaotic, imperfect, organized-in-my-own-dysfunctional-way me. And that’s a good thing.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Bad Blogger in A Good Year

I’m not a bad person, I just do bad things.

Things To Do
Wait. I don’t mean bad things. I mean I do things—or don’t do things—that make me feel guilty. Guilty for not doing things or guilty for should-be-doing things. Guilty for not doing enough of the right things. Sounds a bit crazy and confusing? It is. It can be.

I like order. I like lists. I take pride in my to-do lists, even when they are a key source of self-loathing when I fail to accomplish impossible and over-achieving goals set for each day. I somehow feel that setting unrealistic goals motivates me to accomplish the majority of my ambitions; aim for the stars and maybe you'll reach the sky, or something John Lubbock said. 

My process is nothing new. I have written about this self-defeating/self-fulfilling strategic plan before:

“I have deliberately sabotaged nearly every day of my writing life with my to-do list. It is aggressive. It is unrealistic. It demonstrates my illusions of grandeur....Yet I continue to carry on this habit, this self-punishment. Because it works for me.”

Each year I take stock of things I accomplished, things I didn’t quite check off the list, and, eventually, this transitions into setting goals for the year ahead. This all translates into more lists: lists of accomplishments,
More Things
lists of to-dos right now, lists of to-dos for the new year, lists to remind myself how I, and we, can exercise literary citizenship. I sometimes make lists of lists to make.

So, as December winds its way down, I’m drawn into my usual end-of-year assessment. Last year was apparently “A Tale of 100 Submissions.” In the middle of 2013, I did some self-reflecting and paid mind to needing to downsize some ambitions in order to accomplish bigger goals and keep my sanity. But I also swore to myself that I would not be a hypocrite and that I would, seriously, make my blog more of a priority. I changed up the blog design and set goals publicly—and then failed to execute what I set out to do.

It’s not that blogging is a make or break activity that defines whether or not I am a good person. I actually want to be consistent with my blog. I enjoy writing posts—for myself and for my readers. But the guilt also sets in when I think of emerging and fellow writers who turn to me in my social media workshops and who consider that I know something about this stuff. You’re a full-time writer! You’re good at all that social media stuff! You’re so organized! Oh, please. I’m human. I’m flawed in the most fumbling ways.

That means, in the big picture to-do list of priorities, the blog usually suffers.

These Other Things
In 2013, counting posts only before today, I posted a humbling 37 times to my blog. That’s a little embarrassing. Rather than wallow in my guilt, though, I’m taking action. I’m posting today, obviously, but I’ve also been making notes and plans for topics I’d like to blog about. I have a handsome list (!) accumulating blog post plans and I’m genuinely excited to write more for this venue.

And, really, I don’t feel too bad about being a bad blogger this year. It’s been a great year for me, otherwise. I’ve been busy—overwhelmingly so, but in ways that I feel so blessed to count as Good Things Accomplished in 2013. I traveled—for business and pleasure—to twenty states and two provinces. I worked with the wonderful editorial team at Accents Publishing in preparation for the new poetry book, Square Feet. I finished polishing a new nonfiction book that was contracted this year by Bloomsbury and will be published in late 2014. And I checked so many little—but important-to-me—tasks
Enabling Thing
off my to-do list that I can’t feel bad about not accomplishing everything I set out to do this year. I can’t feel that bad about not blogging more than I did.

But I can aim higher for the year to come. I can accomplish something as simple as posting more often on my blog. I will make this a goal and I will put a realistic plan into action. Which brings me back to assessing the year that was, planning for the year to come, and having fun creating a full-of-hope, full-of-ambition new list of to-dos. Because old habits die hard and I do love those lists…

It looks like I’m going to need a bigger coffee cup for 2014.

Monday, December 2, 2013

cover reveal: Square Feet coming soon

I’m pleased to announce the forthcoming publication of Square Feet, a full-length poetry book. Square Feet will be available in January from Accents Publishing.

More information is available on my website, A press release is also available online:

Review copies are available by request; send an email to lori@ with your potential publication details and I’ll be happy to get you a review copy!

Square Feet explores domestic spaces—emotional, psychological, and physical—within a wounded relationship. A variety of poetic speakers shape the narrative arc, offering internal and external perspectives. The collection contains 59 poems, some of which have been published in literary journals such as Bigger Than They Appear: Anthology of Very Short Poems, Black Dahlia Journal, Caper Literary Journal, New Mirage Journal, Ragazine, r.kv.ry, and Steel Toe Review.

Within the square footage of ordinary domestic space, Lori A. May reveals a world of wonder where “wedding dishes gather dust” and a couple speaks “of kindle,/matches, seeds.” As she takes her reader beyond the closed doors of a starter home, May reveals the shifting seasons of married life, creating an empathetic portrait of a young couple buoyed by ambition, shattered by loss, yet determined to start anew. With wit and wisdom, Square Feet pays incisive tribute to those unsung “reminders of lips/and fingers and tongues/busy with the ceremony/of feasting.”
—Jane Satterfield, author of Her Familiars

The resilient poems in Lori A. May’s Square Feet understand that we should never denigrate the everyday since our lives are made up of it. Dish-washing, furnishing a first home, late suppers and dinner parties, building balance into a relationship, cats on the sill, the parental visit, the possibility of childlessness, gardening, and shopping, the day-to-day exists here in the fullness of its metaphoric potential. These poems are cautious about optimism (for “Gravity/ has been known to be cruel”) but persist in desire. Often leavened with wry humor, May’s poems aim to look at the world square on, and yet still have the courage to hope. 
—Christine Gelineau, author of Appetite for the Devine

Each of Lori A. May’s vivid aphoristic poems in Square Feet raises a miniature window into a moment of marriage or domestic life. Unadorned and unafraid, May’s lines recreate these scenes of love and angst in dioramas of plain words and short lines. Square Feet gives us sex and despair, yes, but also quizzical whimsy. The truths of wry surprises make these poems the work of a mature heart and a trenchant tongue.
             —Molly Peacock, author of The Second Blush

More info online at

Thursday, November 7, 2013

literary citizenship in print, online, and in your backyard

I couldn’t be happier to see so much discussion of late on the topic of literary citizenship. This is a topic near and dear to me and one I’ve had the pleasure of discussing at a number of MFA programs and community writing events over the years. We can never discuss this topic too much. Our involvement in the community—as writers, as readers—only nets good, as far as I’m concerned. Whether helping a small press get off the ground through volunteer hours, or sharing a recommended read with a booklover at work, a little good goes a long way in fostering not only our literary and cultural communities, but our regular old day-to-day life as people.

One of my earliest exposures to the notion of literary citizenship came by way of Carolyn See’s resourceful book, Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers (Ballantine, 2002). Not long after that, I discovered Kate Gale (publisher and editor of Red Hen Press) discussing the topic at conferences and writing residencies. (By the way, do have a look at this lovely Q&A with Kate Gale over at Poets & Writers.) While the concept of being community-minded certainly wasn’t new, the topicality and significance stuck with me. I took the lessons from others to heart, being mindful of my own community involvement, and since 2009 I’ve been offering sessions at grad programs, conferences, and elsewhere—anywhere—where others share an interest in fostering our arts, encouraging fellow writers, and giving something tangible back to the community.

Over the years, dozens of folks have shared their thoughts, experiences, and tips on literary citizenship. Every time I see an article or blog post about how we can authentically engage with others and help sustain a thriving community of writers, my heart sings. There has been so many active and thoughtful writers discussing this topic, and I hope this discussion continues. More is more. It’s through others that I learned the value of literary citizenship. It’s through others that I have felt valued in my own communities. We should all feel that, to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves, to feel that our efforts as writers, artists, and human beings matter—and it matters most when we impact others’ lives. That’s what literary citizenship is all about.
While I’m happy to share my own resources from over the years, I’ll save those to the end of the blog post (because this is not about me). What I really want to do is share some great resources and discussions from others that I’ve seen in print and online. Have a look, share these with your peers, and feel free to post additional resources you’ve come across. I’m not sharing an exhaustive list by any means and I welcome seeing what else you’ve come across on the topic!

Recent and Wonderful Pieces about Literary Citizenship

  • “5 Ways To Be A Good Literary Citizen,” by Allison Amend, in Writer’s Digest link
  • “How to Be a Good Literary Citizen,” by Joey Franklin, in the Nov/Dec ’13 print issue of Poets & Writers (pg 97-100)
  • “The Eight Questions Writers Should Ask Themselves,” by Roxane Gay, at link
  • Author Stephanie Vanderslice discusses the topic with Ploughshares this month in “Writing in a Changing World: Craft, Readership, and Social Media” link

Additional Discussions & Resources (in no particular order)

  • Renegade Writers’ Collective in Burlington VT shares this post, “What is a literary citizen?” link
  • Author Dinty W. Moore has shared a number of posts on the subject over at the Brevity blog, including this one from August 2008:“Be an Open Node: Blake Butler on Literary Citizenship” link
  • Author Kelly Davio shares her thoughts in “The Most Obnoxious Squeak” (Feb 2010), “Kelly’s Rules for AWP” (Jan 2011), and elsewhere on her website
  • In Oct 2011, editor Shannon Cain wrote “The Power of Literary Citizenship” for the Kore Press newsletter. Author Leslie Pietrzyk re-posted it here on her blog.
  • In Jan 2013, Stephanie Vanderslice wrote “The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life: Literary Citizenship and Finding Your Tribe or, 6 Degrees of Anna Leahy” for Huffington Post link
  • Author Cathy Day developed and teaches a class on literary citizenship at Ball State University link; you’ll also find more resources on Cathy Day’s author website link
  • In Sept 2011, Fiction Writers Review shared author Anna Leahy’s “The Future of Literary Citizenship: A Review Essay” link
  • On her blog, writer Ashia H. Lane contemplates the value of community and literary citizenship after graduating with an MFA link 

And, finally, from the ‘Lori A. May archives’

  • "Get involved: Play an active part in the writing community," online link from the May 2010 of The Writer (pg 8-9), in which I interview author Matt Bell, agent Andrea Hurst, editor Leah Maines, and author/editor Kate Gale
  • “Out with the Old, in with the Do,” a blog post from December 2009 on resolving to be a more active literary citizen link
  • “AWP: A First Report for the Snowbound Conference,” in Brevity, from March 2013, in which I recap the Boston AWP panel, “Being a Good Literary Citizen” link
  • In Nov 2009, I offered a seminar for English MA students at Eastern Michigan University: “Literary Citizenship, Then & Now: A Reflection of 19th C American Poetry”
  • I’ve also offered contemporary discussions and workshops on the topic at a number of MFA and undergrad programs, including Arcadia University, Converse College, Macomb College, Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, Oklahoma City University, Owens College, University of King’s College-Halifax, Wilkes University, and University of Western Ontario. Note: If you’re interested in knowing a bit more about these sessions, feel free to contact me—or the directors of these programs!

What does it all mean? It means, largely, we’re invested in our community. It means writers and readers have an abundance of ideas for putting positive energy into our communities. And, it certainly means there’s room for even more discussion.