Most of my life I have not had a group of writers that I could ask questions, request a read of my works, or even provide therapy to get me through to the next stage of writing. I now have that! It’s wonderful to have people of like minds who have been there and done that, felt the same doubts and successes to share the journey. I hope every writer reaches out, whether online or in person, to find a group of individuals willing to give the ‘cold hard truths’ and hold your hand while they are doing it.
I tried Nano – that’s NanoWriMo in November. That is where one writes 50,000 words in the month of November as a part of National Novel Month. This is what I learned:
-I had friends doing it with me. This was key for me as they provided support the online community couldn’t give. Plus, they understood that any progress is progress.
-Any progress is progress. I didn’t hit 50,000 words but was pleased that I had progress on my novel. Setting a goal that is right for what you need is important.
-I knew what I was writing was word salad and it still needs lots of editing.
The cons of NANO for me were that I couldn’t hit my word count, and be a mom, and prepare for the holidays, and go on Thanksgiving holiday, and then prepare for the next holiday, while keeping up with all my mom and wifely duties, and be a writer 24/7 or in other words, I lacked balance. (As does this sentence). That lack of balance put me behind on things so much that I still have yet to really hit the pages again with the gusto I had before, but I am getting there.
Would I do it again? Probably. It’s an excellent program and I give them all sorts of kudos.
It’d be super nice if someone would just give me a house in the woods for a month with no distractions or obligations… I could really do some damage then.
I’m currently enjoying the heck out of both the newly discovered essays and stories by Shirley Jackson, and the biography by Ruth Franklin.
Mrs. Jackson if you’re nasty.
Recently, a family member fell ill. This is putting it in extreme generalizations and non-committal language. I was with that person in the hospital for about a month, during that time one does a lot of soul-searching, praying, bargaining and talking to oneself – that inner talk isn’t always productive, helpful or kind.
During this time, as a writer my first instinct was I need to be writing so I can breathe. But then I couldn’t focus on anything (because I’m human and focused on what needed to be done) so I let myself get to the point where I could. But then I still couldn’t.
As things were looking up, I could read and focus, but still couldn’t write. I couldn’t focus on fiction but could flip through magazines and then could read some non-fiction. It sustained my mind.
As we have now been out of the hospital I have read like a bat out of hell. I am hungry for the words, the escape, the meaning behind it all. The more the better. But not just any words will do.
Several years ago, I was laid off and my husband just so happened to be laid off, too. That was also a hell no one should ever have to deal with, but I digress. I picked up Patti Smith’s “Just Kids” and fell in love. I fell in love with how her words brought to life her life, their life, her struggles as an artist, and how it just was what it was. She was there to be an artist. She was there to absorb that world, and to bring it to life for others. It made me realize that you can’t deny who or what you are supposed to be. (Writer, artist, singer, ambassador, goddess of punk…).
This time I had “M Train” to finish reading. I had previously gotten through the first chapter and then life got in the way and I stopped reading. But again, Patti Smith’s book found me, with her grief of loss and fullness of life and words, and my reality of changes I wasn’t ready for coupled with my total gratefulness.
Her glorious words about her past made me recall my mean inner talk that I had with myself: how maybe every choice I ever made was wrong, if I only had done this, I would have this, and then this would be this way instead of this way… But I realized God doesn’t make accidents, He doesn’t keep putting the same things in front of me for no reason, He doesn’t tease the signs, the signs are there for a reason, we just have to pay attention and do what we’re supposed to do.
Again, I am reminded that writers are here to share their stories with the world, that is our service. It may not be something everyone understands, or rewards, or even notices half the time, but the stories are here to comfort us and to give us life…both my writing and Patti Smith’s writing. We can’t all be Patti Smith (no one can!) but we can learn, we can feel and we can relish in her words.
I notice she has a new book due out in September called “Why I Write.”
Also, went to a used book store and found a first edition hardback of “Just Kids.”
The signs, oh, the signs!
-Books. Writing. Stories. These things shouldn’t be taken for granted.
-IS the pen mightier than the sword?
-We really are better together.
-We need the arts to keep us sane, broaden our minds and keep a deeper record of what is happening or has happened in our world.
These thoughts have gone through my head over the last few weeks as our world seems to be changing faster and in a direction which I do not approve. I still can’t believe I assumed elected officials would stand up to bullying for the good of the people and the American ideal and dream. And for kindness, just stand up for simple human kindness! But I digress…
So, what do I do about it? I write. I write the stories I know need telling. I write the characters that give me life in hopes that they give others what they need. I read the books that inspire. I put those books in my little library in hopes that they will spark something in others. Also, I share the stories that give hope and understanding. Is it a protest? No, but I “sit in” my chair and do what I believe to be right, so in that sense, yes, every time I write it’s a big middle finger to those with little, closed minds.
If we all write from our hearts, then yes, the pen IS mightier than any sword, we can change opinions and thus change the world, without bullying.
We are better together. People of all shapes, sizes, genders, societal levels, incomes, colors, cat people vs. dog lovers, coffee vs. tea drinkers…we can learn to stand together. We can focus on why we are alike instead of why we are different. We are all immigrants, unless Native American. We all had a mother figure/woman in our life. We all have had to work for something. We’ve all enjoyed something that was artistic. We all recognize when someone is kind. We can all smile. We could just start there.
The arts (including writing and stories) began with cavemen and women and it’s not going to stop now. I’m doing what I can the only way I know how. So, hold your own “sit in” and get to work. We’ve got a wrong to write.
This book review is political in nature. You have the option to keep reading or not.
I just finished reading Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” and I wanted to immediately pick it up and read it again. I finished the day after the 2016 election.
What disturbs me most about the election is not one side won or lost, it’s that MY America seems to have been voted down. MY America is about giving others a chance; making your own way the best way you can; giving to others; showing respect to all people; being nice; the freedom to be who you are, look the way you look, be equals, seek the medical care you need, be any color or gender, pursue your happiness and your freedom of religion. The freedom to pursue your artistic passions with freedom of speech. The freedom to live your life without being scared to go places without fear of being beaten, shot or blown up. You can be rich or poor, girl or boy, young or old, republican or democrat, green or magenta and be a good person and not harm others. MY America is not about divisions, that’s why we we’re “a melting pot.”
Parts of MY America are also reflected in the great works of literature, such as The Grapes of Wrath, The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird, to name just a very few. Now, I am also a realist and know that one man is only one man, no matter who he is, and that things more than likely will turn out just fine if we keep what matters in the forefront.
“Born to Run” had this bit of America to which I am clinging. It is NOT a political book. But it has all the elements of what makes MY America great.
A young, rag-tag guy with a boisterous, dysfunctional family life finds a spark of inspiration in Elvis and The Beatles. He works, and he works hard. He struggles to find the money, the means and the talent in himself to do the thing he so very much wants to do. And he does it well. He meets up with other rag-tag, like-minded individuals and makes up his own team of people he can trust. He finds his voice, he finds success, he finds he didn’t have all the answers but learns along the way.
The best three parts of this book for me is the honesty Springsteen gives his depression and his family’s history of mental illness. The other part is when he finds his brother Clarence Clemons, and then learns of all the struggles Clemons goes through. You can feel how his eyes became open to racism through his words.
I don’t mean to sum up this book in one or two paragraphs, as the language in which Springsteen expresses his youth and even his adulthood are beyond compare. It is so worth your time to read. Even if there are no political issues happening in the backdrop, this is a great read about one of our most exciting musicians and expressive lyricists who can capture magic in a bottle with his words, as well as make you want to get out of your seat. And he’s still just a down to earth guy from Jersey, doing what we are all trying to do.
There has always been unrest. Use your talents for good. Oh, and Bruce, “we’re going to need you again.”
When I talk, I don’t always speak with grammar rules intact. Maybe it’s a southern thing, maybe it’s laziness, maybe it’s habit. I write much better than I speak. My accent doesn’t mean I’m uneducated or simple. But alas, if I have something important to say, I write it. I think better with my fingers. I don’t know if that’s a testament to my writing or a result of being introverted. When writing, I do weigh every word carefully. I don’t just put junk down, unless the story or character needs it. A well-chosen word or two can make a difference between all the qualities below and the recycle bin. Learning to write was never about grammar and proper sentences to me. It’s just a given. I try my best and correct the rest in editing mode. That’s why I don’t talk about ‘the rules’ when I talk about writing.
The most important qualities to me in a story that I’ve written are: if its honest? does it have feeling? (any feeling-happy, sad, scary…) is it necessary? does it entertain, teach, have value of some sort? does it engage? would I want to read it? is it something I want to tour around and talk about endlessly? (in case the opportunity arises I want to be able to stand up for it and stand behind it).
Honesty- Is the piece is honest with the reader and am being authentic with myself? That doesn’t mean my story about a murder translates to me being evil, it means are my characters honest, do I represent them honestly? Do I want a character to find gold and be happy ever after if it’s “not realistic?” Not to pick, but the end of “Gone Girl” was frustrating, however it was honest to those characters. The end of the show “How I Met Your Mother” was not honest to the viewers. This blog is honestly how I feel about writing.
Feelings- Nothing more than feelings. You gotta have the feels.
Necessary- I wrote a piece I thought I would someday make into a novel. I had it mapped out, who would do what, when, how, the feels, all of the above, BUT it didn’t feel necessary to make these characters into anything more than a story. The characters didn’t have anything more to say than the story I had written. It didn’t meet the value mark as a novel, but did as a story.
Value/Entertain/Teach- Some novels are just for fun. Some change your life. Some can do both. They have value. I don’t want to create art just for arts’ sake. Some people do and that’s fine. But again, this is my blog. This doesn’t mean I’m a literary snob. There’s something to be said for a novel to be entertaining and take you away from reality. It’s called a break, we all deserve one sometimes.
Engage- If my story just lays there flat and people can’t remember it or take an interest in it, then it does not engage the reader. It’s like my journalism professor used to say about headlines and the first sentence. If it makes a couple at the breakfast table say, “Hey Martha did you read that?” then it is engaging. (Thanks, V. Tyson!)
Read- If a story is trying too hard, or not hard enough, has monotonous language, doesn’t relate to me and does not have any of the above qualities, I don’t want to read it. So why keep writing it?
Tour it- I wrote a couple of stories about history for kids. They were ok. They did what they needed to do. I cleaned them up in editing. Then I asked myself, “If this were to become a thing, and I had to go to bookstores to talk about it, do I really want to talk about it that much?” The answer was no. So it died that day on my computer.
Now the most important part is that I ask these questions of myself. I don’t want to ask these questions of the peanut gallery. This is according to me. Tom Turkey might feel differently about a point that I do, and I don’t care about Tom Turkey, he’s not the writer. Does that mean I don’t listen to those that have something to say about my writing? No, I am open to any worthy feedback. But these are my questions, and how I gauge my works.
What are your questions?
Ever wonder what goes on in a writer’s head? I’ve read sentences and thought, ‘Genius! How on earth did he/she come up with that!’
As I am supposed to be writing on a story and can’t seem to clear my head from all the thoughts in my brain, I wanted to write them down so you might better understand all the chatter that goes on. This is sometimes how I get my ideas for sentences and stories. However, most times all this chatter just sends me into the kitchen to eat something, anything!
- Why are you even trying to write this? No one wants to read this!
- So if I take son to said event, I can get back in time for other said event across the way.
- I need to be _____ (fill in the blank with any random project or thing including cleaning house, reading, labeling notebooks…)
- Even if it isn’t good I need to get it down on paper first at least to look at it.
- Eggs, rice, toothbrush, orange juice…
- I only have so many hours until the kids come home and then I’ll have to help with homework and activities so write it down, now!
- Won’t it be glorious if they make this into a movie. My Oscar(R) speech will start: “Thank you so much! (point upwards) Yes, this is my real accent. Not every southerner sounds like this; only the sexy, smart ones…”
- Oh crap, I wanted to do such-and-such today I forgot! (Adds to to-do list after finding to-do list.)
- I really need to lose weight, I don’t like this jiggle here…
- Stop typing ‘just’ and ‘that’ – there are better words!!! Find function, replace…
- But if Character A meets Character B then Character C is pointless. Argggg!
- delete, delete, delete, delete, delete, delete, delete, delete, delete, delete…
It’s amazing I get anything done. There are days I can end the chatter and focus, other days my mind just chats on, whether I want it to or not. I realize this is what they call resistance, inner critic, bastard… I call it annoying.
Soon I shall slay the beast that keeps my genius in chains. Today does not seem to be that day.
Writing is hard. Creativity is hard. It isn’t hard like being a doctor and giving someone bad news, or in a I’m-saving-lives-firefighter way; but it is hard. Maybe because we make it hard. (Of course, by ‘we’ I mean me.) The struggle gets me down. Then I remember I am not my thoughts, I don’t even have to listen to my inner jerk wad.
The beginning or even deciding to start is fairly awful. You have to convince yourself maybe you can do the impossible. You can put those words down on paper in way that makes people feel, imagine, change their minds, or make the world a better place. You have to convince yourself this story you have inside you is worthy enough to be seen, read, and dare I say, even published. After that, you have to convince yourself what people say doesn’t matter. You put everything you have mentally, in word form, into that story and you put it out there for people to see. Have you seen the shaming and judging in the world today? Are you ready for that? Sometimes I am, sometimes I’m not. Oh, that doubt gets you every time. It’s like when you leave the house and keep thinking you didn’t shut your garage, but worse. Or you can just put words to paper and come what may.
There’s been way too many years I’ve spent trying to be anything but a ‘writer.’ I’ve dabbled in and mastered many types of writing; advertising, web content, newspaper reporting, they all have a wonderful place in the world, but for me it was just another means to use my writing in a mode that was considered “approved” and less risky. Guess what? It wasn’t a substitute for a good old fashioned creative story.
Writing is also something you do alone. You’re born alone, you die alone, you write that story alone. Sometimes it’s nice. Sometimes you get tired of hearing yourself compare the words ‘light’ and ‘not heavy’ to see which has a better flow with your story.
My kids know I’m now trying to accomplish something with my writing. There’s nothing better than the belief and support of elementary aged kids. They have such faith in me it makes me cry. I’ve never had my own cheering section. Part of me wonders what they will think of me if I fail. I suspect better than if I didn’t try at all. Part of me wonders how I could fail with them in my corner.
There’s also a little, squeaky voice inside me that says if I just let all this other stuff go, everything would be fine. I may not be a king of production like Jame$ Patter$on, but I could make it.
There’s a documentary from Dave Grohl called Sound City. There’s a part where he is writing and recording music with Sir Paul McCartney in his studio. Paul and Dave are rocking out and Dave says something like, ‘Man, I wish making music was always this easy.” And the ever-wise Paul McCartney says ‘It is. It is.’
As a writer I am supposed to enjoy all forms of prose. Mostly, I do. I appreciate others’ points of view. I mean, there are thousands of ways to talk about your breakfast, alone.
“It was early, and breakfast was fast.” “Breakfast is the beginning of a glorious day in the making, so one egg will not do.” “Her breakfast was stark and bland. His breakfast had a greasy gleam that rivaled dawn’s early light.” “Breakfast consisted of cereal and three kinds of juice.” And so on, and so on… thousands of ways.
I recently read “The Writing Life” by Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Dillard, published in 1989. I love books about the spirituality of writing. I love Anne Lamott and Natalie Goldberg, Julia Cameron and many others. I had high hopes. It was lovely and full of stories, metaphors, similes, powerful images, spiritual awakenings and comparisons… and I hated it.
I wanted to relate. I understood. I ‘got it’ – I just didn’t want it.
I want to hear about the writing life. I want to hear about each writers’ experience. I don’t mind the stories, I love the stories. But this was so far out there, it felt like it never came back. From surgeons, to Zulu Warriors, from cabins to babies playing chess… maybe I was too much in my right mind to enjoy it. “I sat down at my desk and typed,” does make for a boring book, but you can’t force spiritual.
But who am I to criticize?
Has a writing book ever let you down with great force?