HippoCamp 2017

In its third year, HippoCamp will descend upon Lancaster, Pennsylvania, during the second weekend of September. If you or someone you know enjoys creative nonfiction and/or would like to see keynote speaker Tobias Wolff in person, I strongly encourage you to register now!


I’ve seen the conference schedule, and let me tell you: it’s got a lot of interesting classes, including:

Breakfast and Topic Tables

 Saturday is the heart of HippoCamp and a jam-packed day. That’s why we’re feeding you a solid breakfast! Enjoy a hot breakfast with lots of options. Plus, you may sit at a designated topic table to discuss a writing or publishing issue with other attendees. Meet while you eat!

Yes, I will always go for the food portion of any conference, but HippoCamp brings the topics of conversation even to breakfast!

Writing Better with Social Media

Social media–platform–building readership–too often, these feel like a distraction from our “real” work, or like we’re shouting into a void. But it’s possible to use social media to improve our writing and bring joy to our day and momentum to our career. We’ll cover using social media purposefully and meaningfully and how Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, and blogging can be part of your literary world.

One reason I’m trying to post once a week on this journal is so that people know I’m still alive and creating things. Social media not only connects me to people I know, but also people I don’t know, and that in itself is a great boon.

Lessons from Failure: How to Learn, Recover, and Succeed when Everything Seems Overwhelming

Writers, both established and emerging, have faced all kinds of obstacles. Whether it’s constant rejection, a new baby, unemployment, the death of a loved one, or just the daily grind, writers always seem to face some insurmountable struggle, which often takes them away from their work. However, many are able to prevail with a bit of persistence and perseverance. Join us for a conversation about trying and trying again, about failure and success. Participants are encouraged to share their experiences and discuss how we can become better writers by turning our failures into successes.

I need encouragement sometimes, especially when the failing becomes tough. Let me just say, it’s difficult sometimes for me to keep my hopes up, but I hope this workshop will at least help me feel less alone in living life’s ups and downs.

20 Questions

1. Do you have any regrets? Yes, of course.

2. Do you have a deep, dark secret? Yes, sort of.

3. Have you ever hurt someone? Yes.

4. Have you ever self-harmed? Yes.

5. How would you like to be remembered? Well.

6. Who are the three most important people in your life? I can’t choose only three.

7. Was there one event that changed your life and the way you think? Like an epiphany moment..? I’ve had a couple of those.

8. Would you sacrifice everything for love? No.

9. Are you afraid of dying? Sometimes.

10. Have you ever been abused? Yes.

11. Have you ever been in love? Yes.

12. Are you happy with who you are? No.

13. Would you ever give up your life to save someone else’s? Yes.

14. Have you changed at all in the last year? Yes.

15. Would you ever settle for someone you didn’t feel was “the one”? I don’t know.

16. Is there someone you can tell everything to without fear of judgment? Yes.

17. Are you pursuing your dreams? In a zigzag way, yes.

18. Do actions speak louder than words? Yes.

19. Is there something you would never do? I don’t know. I think things are situational.

20. What makes you uncomfortable? Not doing enough for myself because I don’t believe I deserve it.

Prepping for a conference

I’ve learned a few things about how I work best at professional conferences, and I hope some of this can help you, too. This year, I’ve attended two writing conferences—one huge and one tiny—and will be attending another in September. These thoughts could also apply to social conventions as well, though I don’t have those in mind as much in writing these notes.

  1. Book your room in the hotel that’s hosting the event. Seriously, this is a big deal. It gives you a kind of home base to which you can escape if the need arises. (For me, the need always arises.) If you decide not to do this, try to make a space for yourself as best you can. That may mean retreating to your car or finding an unused conference room, but having a little space to breathe will help keep your spirits up the entire day.
  2. Wear clothes that make you feel strong, confident, and self-assured. Think about the conference you’re attending and dress appropriately, of course, but also make sure that you’re dressing in a way that helps you be your best self.
  3. Get there early to scope out the place and people. Like, really early so that you can see the venue and have time for yourself before other people arrive. Or, on the flipside, arrive right on time to minimize the chances you’ll have to engage in conversation. I move between these two ideas pretty fluidly and they’ve both worked for me at different times. It also depends on how much time I have to spare before the event.
  4. Allow yourself to make a graceful exit when you need time to yourself. As Susan Cain says, “If you know that you are going to allow yourself to leave early, it’s a lot easier to be fully present and engaged for the time that you’re there.”
  5. Remember to tell yourself: Nobody belongs here more than me.

Hopefully I’ll have more about the conferences themselves in another post soon. Thanks for reading!

Letter to my fifteen year old self

Dear you,

I’m you from the future. I’m more than twice your age, and there are some things I want to tell you about before you go off thinking you know what’s good for you.

You get in to Chamber Singers and it becomes one of the best yearlong experiences of your life. You get into college, too; the college you get into and attend is at the same time great and awful. It’s great because you’ll love and cherish your time there, and you’ll wish you won’t have to leave after four years. Yes, you do graduate; don’t worry. You could do better in your classes, but in the end, the things you remember won’t be the classes. It’s awful because you’ll mess up a lot and hurt yourself and be hurt by other people.

Floundering around after college isn’t a bad thing. You’ll have time to figure out your shit, and you will. Well, you’ll figure out some of it, anyway. There will be some stuff that you won’t be sure you’ll ever figure out, and that’s okay, too. You won’t make all the right decisions, or even most of the right decisions, but don’t worry too much about that either. Life has a way of surprising people who earnestly move forward into it, and that includes you.

Fear is not the enemy. You’ll think you’re faking it even fifteen years from now. But it’s not fear that you have to worry about, it’s inaction. Being paralyzed by fear is the enemy, not fear itself. When you overcome, you’ll be a better person.

Don’t spend so much money. Really, all that stuff you think you have to have… you don’t have to have. It’s really not that important. Know your financial limits and stay within them. I know you won’t take this advice, but I have to say it anyway, just in case.

Sunscreen is important, but it’s not so important that you have to wear it every day. You don’t go out in the sun that often, so it’s not that big of deal if you get burned a couple of times. I hope my 45- or 60-year-old self doesn’t regret saying that.

Eventually, you’ll get a graduate degree in writing and you’ll be able to earn a living writing and editing, even if it’s not the kind of writing you really want to do. You’ll give presentations at conferences about poetry, nonfiction, diversity in the writing and editing spheres, and more. Keep on that path. If you want it bad enough and work toward it well enough, you will see the fruit of your labors.

There may be nothing you can do to avoid being hurt by other people, but you can avoid hurting yourself. The struggle with depression and anxiety will be real. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, tell yourself, “I can always kill myself tomorrow.” That may sound pessimistic on a good day, but remember that you’ll only tell yourself this on bad days. On bad days, you’ll feel like you need the out that suicide brings, but it’ll be okay because you’ll put it off until tomorrow. Don’t worry about the future if you can’t handle it. Just worry about today. Get through today.

Live simply and love fully. Love yourself fully. It will be difficult and you won’t always succeed, but be kind to yourself. Respect yourself and your friends enough to ask for the things that you need. You may not always get those things, but it will do you good to ask.

Yours, me.

The New Deal

My website has been languishing in internet limbo for years now, and I recently decided I need to put an end to that. I have not stopped writing, as many of my friends will attest, but my willingness to have my writing made public waned to nearly nothing over the past couple of years. I just printed out a bunch (like, a thousand or so) writing prompts from various websites and will try to use some of them to get back into the swing of posting for readers rather than just writing whatever I want for myself.

I’m setting the bar relatively low; I’d like to post once per week, preferably on Tuesday. I’ll also write several posts ahead of time so I have a little buffer just in case real life happens, which it inevitably will. I will not be backdating any posts. That is to say, I won’t be trying to fill in the empty months and years that have passed by this site without so much as a “Hi, I’m still alive” update. I encourage you to respond to any post with your own thoughts, but I won’t be offended if no one ever does. Though I will try my best to be professional and not petty, this is still my space, and I still get to say what I want to say in the way I want to say it, and I reserve the right to block spammers and trolls from posting on any and all of my material.

I’ve been posting off and on since December 12, 2001, so if you’re an oldtimer, welcome back. If you’re new to my space, please let me introduce myself. I’ve gone by many names online, but most recently it’s just been Viannah, the name given to me by my parents at my birth. I publish under my full name, Viannah E. Duncan. I am still learning to integrate my online persona with real life, so please be patient with me and I’ll try not to make it too irritating. If you read through my older posts, you’ll notice that I’ve often tried to hide my real name because I was either underage, trying to protect my own privacy or that of my family and friends, or just plain thought it was cooler to have an alias of some kind. Seeing as I’m getting too old for that kind of thing, I’ll try going by my given name for a while and see how that goes.

I live in the Baltimore area with my cat, Cleopatra. I like writing and editing, which is a good thing because I do that professionally. Despite being an editor, I won’t be editing these posts for more than general grammar, spelling, and punctuation since they’re not meant to be professional copy the way some of my other work is. That being said, these posts are meant to showcase my writing ability and versatility, which is partially why I’ll be writing in so many different styles (essay, short fiction, poetry, etc.). I’m leaving all my previous work up as a testament to how far I’ve come in my personal and professional journey, but please note that I’m not the same person I was then. If you have any questions about who I am or what I believe, please ask; I may end up writing an entire entry about it!

Aside from what I’ve noted here, I am a daughter, sister, sister-in-law, and best friend to my family and close friends. I believe in the Oxford comma, though I will write without it professionally if that’s required of me. I’ll choose tea over coffee any day of the week; I like postal mail, public transportation, and cold weather. I am feminist, queer, and extremely politically liberal. However, I also respect those around me and refrain from arguing with anyone who’s obviously trying to incite anger or otherwise raise my hackles. I have nothing to prove to anyone except myself, and I intend to keep it that way.