Cultivating My Roses and Buds

Saturday, June 24, 2023
One of my good friends works for a small academy in New Hampshire, teaching English to high school ninth graders. She also leads an after-school writing program. One of the exercises she uses to help her students warm up is to ask them to write to this prompt: 

Tell me about your day’s Roses, Thorns, and Buds. 

Roses, she explains to them, are the best part of each student’s day. Thorns are anything disappointing that happened to them (that day, or recently). Buds are something they’re looking forward to in the near future. 

It’s a great writing prompt, she tells me, to get the juices flowing quickly for her students. More so, I think it’s a great tool for writers to adopt in our daily lives, helping us reframe our thinking around our writing practice and reminding us to focus on the wins along the way—rather than dwelling on those sharp thorns that invariably will stick each of us. I’m looking at you, Submittable Queue, with your wet-blanket “Declined” status. 

As I reflect on my spring and early summer of Roses, Thorns, and Buds, I’m happy to report that I’ve collected a number of beautiful proverbial roses to display in my equally proverbial vase, despite the thorns that scratched me. 

Image: iStock 

My Roses, of late: 
I’ve had two CNF essays and two poems accepted for publication recently. I’m counting these wins in the Rose column for the boost of confidence each “yes” delivered to me. Following my teacher friend’s writing prompt guidance, each acceptance was indeed the best part of my day when I heard the good news. 

My Buds, of late: 
I’m also counting the above acceptances in my Bud column, since the essays and poems are not yet published and therefore are something I’m “looking forward” to adding to my website. As self-affirming as these publication acceptances are, I have two more double Roses and Buds that are taking prized center stage in my vase: 

1.) I was accepted into a month-long immersive writing residency program in … drum roll, please: Prague! 

I submitted my application and writing samples in early February and on an icy, gray New England day late in the same month I opened an email from the program director. I had been accepted! I’ll join 19 writers and poets from around the world for the whole month of July in Prague. 

This immersive writing residency is different from other international residencies I’ve attended in that we will not be living together in one or two buildings. Instead, each of us will stay in our own flats around various neighborhoods in the city. Part of what drew me to apply to this program was to experience living like a true local for a whole month: choosing my own flat, shopping at a neighborhood grocer, and finding my way to the workshop venue in “District 2” from my flat in “District 3” via Prague’s scenic tram route (or, I can take the subway or walk about 30 minutes). 

I plan to workshop a chapter or two from my memoir manuscript while there, taking advantage not only of my fellow residents’ perspectives, but having a chance to meet 1:1 with the program’s award-winning faculty, all of whom have published novels, memoirs, essay collections, and/or poetry collections. The program also requires that residents produce new work, while there. And in addition to half-day workshops, we’ll attend salon readings during some evenings, be given free time to write and explore the city, and join excursions to UNESCO World Heritage sites on weekends. 

The countdown is on to my journey to “the City of a Hundred Spires!” 

2.) My second double Rose and Bud in my vase? I applied to a year-long program called “Craft Year” and found out a few weeks ago that I’m one of only 10 accepted writers! Craft Year is going to be a year-long, mini-MFA-style program that Megan Pillow, a well-known writer in the Twitter writing community, conceived and will lead. It will run from summer 2023 to summer 2024. 

Best of all? It’s FREE. 

Meg is a talented writer— I’ve long admired her CNF essays and short stories that I started reading on Twitter a few years ago. Meg holds a Ph.D. and works with Roxane Gay on The Audacity publication. Several months ago, she put out a call on Twitter to invite writers to apply for 10 spots in her inaugural program. In her acceptance email to me, Meg told me she had received 250 applications. 

Our “cohort” includes CNF writers, poets, an actor and writer with TV and movie credits, a lawyer, a journalist, and a screenwriter. We live around the world, from the U.S., to the Netherlands, to Nigeria. I’m excited to learn from and grow alongside these talented writers in the upcoming year! 

Image: Megan Pillow 

My Thorns, of late: 
Not everything in life is wine and roses—ha! I’m ending my blog discussing my Thorns, but not because the Thorns outweigh the Roses or Buds. To the contrary! Yet, I want to leave you with a few of my disappointments to illustrate that although I have amazing opportunities on my horizon with Prague and Craft Year, I’m reminded that the writing life we’ve all chosen requires fortitude. Persistence. And the writing life will most definitely scratch us from time to time as we try to cut our Roses to put in our vases. 

I received two disappointing rejections recently. One was for a CNF essay I’d submitted to an anthology with a theme of our relationship to our bodies. I felt I had a good shot at placing my essay in the anthology, as I’ve written an entire memoir around my complicated relationship with my body—namely, a tumor that bled in my head for 40 years and caused all sorts of complications. Yet, I adapted through the years to my deficits (the uplifting message of my memoir). More than that, I survived, after 12 hours of open-head surgery. 

The anthology editor, unfortunately, did not connect with my essay. Scratches from that Thorn stung a bit. 

I also received word, just a few days ago, that a contest I’d entered back in March was moving forward with their shortlist without my memoir among them. My submission had made it to the third round, but was not chosen to advance. Another Thorn that drew a drop of blood. 

We will always—all of us—have to cultivate our Roses and Buds while wearing gloves. When we forget, we’ll at times get scratched up a bit. 

The important thing to remember is that any Rose is worth dealing with a Thorn or two.  


Ann Kathryn Kelly writes from New Hampshire’s Seacoast region.


Angela Mackintosh said...

I love your friend's prompt! So clever. I'm definitely going to use that at the dinner table every night. :) Your roses and buds are poppin', Ann! Congratulations on your two essay and poem acceptances! Please do share them when they publish. I also can't wait to live vicariously through you as you travel to Prague! Promise me you'll check out one of their amazing nightclubs I've heard about. ;) I love the idea of a free year-long cohort, and I bet it'll be so rewarding. I think your roses and buds definitely outweigh your thorns!

Speaking of contests, I entered the reprint contest we talked about yesterday! I found out the journal that published "The Fifth W" is no longer online. The Nervous Breakdown now redirects to Brad Listi's Otherppl podcast website. So here's hoping that we both get a shot at repubbing our beloved pieces. Let me know if you hear anything, and I'll let you know. :)

Have fun in Prague, Ann! Keep us updated!

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

That prompt is golden! Hugs on the thorns.

I hope you know that we will be living vicariously through you while you are in Prague and we are doing glam things like cleaning out the garage and basement and hanging drywall. Congratulations on your buds and roses. You've worked so hard to attain them!

Ann Kathryn Kelly said...

Ang -- I'm so happy you submitted to the reprint contest! Yep, I sent along my reprint, too. Fingers crossed for both of us! I guess we're both a tad conflicted, though, because there can only be one winner ... LOL!! Counting down the hours to Prague!

Ann Kathryn Kelly said...

SueBE: Hahaha! Cleaning out a dusty, hot garage ... I can see it! LOL!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Ann: Yay! Glad you sent it. :) If there's only one winner, I hope it's one of us! I'd be thrilled if you won. :) And you never know, they might publish ones that don't win. I've had that happen to me three times.

Sue: We're fixing the roof and hanging drywall in our guest cabin right now. So glam!

Renee Roberson said...

I love this prompt, Ann! I'll have to sit down and see if I can figure out what my roses, buds, and thorns are as of late. I am also living vicariously through your writing adventures! You have an armful of long-stemmed roses right now and I think that's the most important thing to focus on.

Ann Kathryn Kelly said...

Thanks, Renee! It certainly feels like an armful, and they're quite fragrant and I'm quite, quite grateful. :)

Kelly Sgroi said...

Love this prompt! We all have roses but we tend to focus on the thorns rather than the whole flower. This reminder is lovely - focus on the positives, roses are not all thorns and no petals!

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