I’ve been writing ever since I can remember holding a pencil. I was acknowledged for this in school and even into college. However, my biggest fear has always been sharing my work with others. I’m starting this blog to break out of my comfort zone. My plan is to write with all honesty, to delve deep into my soul while I continue to hone my craft. This is my commitment to authorship and I welcome you to join me.
Today I ran across a statement on-line that I have heard many times before, although I cannot bring myself to agree with it. Now before I start this rant, I need to make one thing clear. I believe that books are one of the most precious and helpful forms of art that humans have ever created.
I think I take good care of my books. I don’t leave them out in the rain or let them fall into the toilet. I don’t throw them around or use them to hold things down, although you will find some on the floor next to my desk and my reading area. I rarely lend them out anymore for fear of never seeing them again. I do not let children play with them as they are not toys.
Although it’s frowned upon, there are things I do with books that I know I will keep. These things I do are either for learning purposes or because the writing is so good I don’t want to forget where to find it later. So I do write in the margins and highlight and underline passages to go back to. I have my own little shorthand of how to find what I am looking for. I usually keep a note card as my bookmark as well so I can jot down references and page numbers.
Then I do the two things that drive many book people crazy. I ear-fold page corners and on small paperbacks, I break spines. Oh! I know many of you just lost your composure and will probably not read this any further and refer to me as a monster while you simmer in your disgust. But if you will allow me to explain…
I’m known to hold a book with one hand if possible. If it’s a small paperback, it’s the easiest way to hold it. To me, a broken spine represents a well-read, much loved and thoroughly enjoyed book. “It was so good, I couldn’t put it down.” Besides, how can you see all the words if you don’t open the book all the way!
Isn’t a book supposed to be hard to put down? Isn’t a book supposed to suck you in and make you want to read it, casting everything else aside? I hear people lament about a broken spine or about the unsightly creases across the title or the horrors of the people who treat books so… But think about this, at least you know that the book was not only read but most likely finished. The book is worn because it was loved, not necessarily miss-cared for (folded, missing or mangled covers say that).
I think it is far more important that a book is read, handled and enjoyed. Unless you buy books strictly for the way they look on a bookshelf, which seems pretty shallow to me. Don’t get me wrong—I can fall in love with a pretty cover and will do everything in my power to keep it that way. There’s just something so cold and sterile about books that don’t look like they ever get read. While I do love the look and feel of a brand new book, I also deeply cherish books that have been loved and read so much that they can barely hold themselves together.
So call me a monster for breaking the spine or earmarking the page. Call me destructive for writing in and marking up books that are in my own collection. Just know this, just because we love books differently doesn’t make me any less of a book lover. If you don’t agree with me that doesn’t mean that I am wrong either. Please think twice before you shame someone for the way they love, even with books.
As usual, this week held many writing distractions. People in from out of town. Stresses at home and work. The internet. But this week my biggest distraction has been thinking about writing. These are just some of the things I’ve been thinking about…
I’ve thought about my many false starts, my shitty first drafts, my ramblings and my venting. I’ve pondered why I write, carefully considering what I personally get out of it. There have even been points lately where I think about giving up but I push myself to keep going. I write from the heart or because there’s an idea or story or character building inside of me that I must let out. I must put it to paper before it is lost forever. I find myself writing notes while I write. I write them in the margins or on sticky notes so that my pencil can continue to move without losing momentum and ideas.
I remember there was a story I started when I was 10. I don’t remember much about it; other than I didn’t finish it. Every now and then I will hear someone say the name of one of those characters (which is rare) and I will smile because I still have a vision of that character. Pieces like that are most likely the best parts of those stories and somewhere deep inside me they still exist. Over the last couple of months, while I’ve been learning more about the actual crafting of a book, I have had a handful of characters come to life on these yellow writing pads of mine. I’m learning to give the story direction through these characters, which is not an easy task. Writing is full of these blissful hazards.
I am thoroughly swimming in my creativity. In a single day, I work on different projects, depending on certain states of necessity or whatever inspiration is at hand. For example with these blog posts for #52essays2017, I’ve managed to put myself on a slightly flexible deadline. At the same time, I also write when inspiration hits. For every personal essay that I post, there’s at least one or two that have not developed past my writing pad.
When it comes to my novel, my work is devotional. Some days I write for hours, others just 20 minutes. This is dependent on time availability and inspiration (or lack of it). I’ve recently added in time for experimental writing sessions where I try something new that I’ve learned to see what happens. Some very promising pieces have come from these sessions.
Even though I technically submit my work each time I post one of these essays, I’m still reluctant to submit my work to other venues. At this point, it’s more of the case that I haven’t finished a piece that I felt was publishable. I accept the fact that right now I am still learning and I feel I will know when I finally have a piece that is ready.
I still find it hard to quantify the things I am learning. How do you explain how to master inspiration? Or how to balance character and plot? Or even how to balance showing and telling while mixing in setting the pace? How can you explain something that can only be experienced?
I have to say I am so grateful for this writing journey. I wish I could devote more time to my writing as it is far more fulfilling than any job I’ve ever had. It gives me a purpose and goals to aim for. It gives me a chance to let out parts of me that I don’t share with anyone. Most importantly it helps me learn more about myself which is a priceless and never ending part of my education.
I’ve been thinking about the differences between being “thankful” and being “grateful”. These two words can easily replace each other. So easily in fact, that they equal each other in the Thesaurus. Yet if you break each word down according to its definition, “thankful” is only a part of the more encompassing idea of “gratitude”. In my experience, these two interchangeable words represent and construct two overlapping mindsets and seem to have their owns ways of focusing intention.
When I was a kid, I was indoctrinated to brandish an extremely religious mindset. Even through all my unanswered questions, I remained devout. I learned to be thankful, even though it always felt indebted or obliged. I could never quite put into words how I found something wrong with the word “thankful”, well, not so much wrong— as much as missing or lacking some vital part or component. I didn’t feel it encompassed the feeling enough for me.
As I grew into adulthood, I transitioned into a spiritual person. Along with my spiritual exploration, I discovered the idea and concept of “gratitude”. It was proposed to me that, in order to be in harmonious balance, one needed to develop an attitude of gratitude. That when one deals with life from a mindset of gratitude, one would focus on one’s blessings instead of on one’s troubles. This practice, in turn, brings even more blessings into our lives because we are then focused only on the positive. This refreshing path helped me explore the world with vibrant eyes and an abundant heart. Being “grateful” felt right and it eased the heavy victim feelings I had carried around with me for so long.
Gratitude manifested itself within me, small at first, as a seed and germinated slowly over time. It was a jovial new plaything. It was fun and resplendent. However, it didn’t fully bloom that first year— that is, it took some time to see the results of gratitude in my daily life. However, once the attitude of gratitude took a solid hold and continued to grow, it quietly filled all the cracked places in my soul.
It’s taken some time, but now I realize that being grateful implies something deeper. It is the soul’s way of saying “I am grateful for this while it is present in my life.” This helps us to let go of things not meant for us with composure and dignity. Gratitude even changes the direction and the fabric of our lives. The soul understands that we will have many experiences over the course of our lives and that we must find all the possible reasons to be grateful, even during troubled times.
Practicing gratitude on a daily basis also changes you. It is a soulful process and experience. It lights up the dark places within you, even if it’s just a little. Life tends to go a little smoother. Tough times don’t seem as tough. I find the more grateful I am, the more good things come into my life. I still get up every morning and write down the things I’m grateful for. Especially the days when I feel stress and hopelessness trying to take the reigns. For every hopeless thought or feeling, I try and find at least three things to be thankful for. I do this even if at first I don’t feel it and even more so if I find myself feeling defeated. I redirect that energy and steer it in a positive direction. Maintaining a sense of gratitude might seem unimportant, yet gratitude may just be one of the single most profound things any one of us can do.
As a budding author I know one of the most important things to do (besides writing, of course) is to read. To not just read, but to read a lot, to read closely and to read from as many genres and authors as possible. While reading tends to be an enjoyable time-consuming process, it also is one of the best ways to learn to write effectively and helps to find your voice as a writer.
When I wrote as a child, I had very little in the way of literary inspiration and even less in the way of encouragement. Therefore, the stories I wrote lacked vividness, structure, and cohesion. This was still true even in my early adult years. It wasn’t until after I finally became a voracious reader that my writing began to come to life, with each subsequent book I finish having some impact on my writing.
I grew up being what they called a “latch-key kid”. I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere. (We lived in Florida, if I went outside my skin would instantly tan and was always noticed by my scornful mother.) I wasn’t allowed to have any friends over either and the TV became my best and only friend. I watched show after show for endless hours. I became lazy and even lethargic. There were a few periods of time where we had no television in the house and when I look back those were some of my best years.
I think this indoctrination is why it took so long for me to become an avid reader. But once I did start reading, I couldn’t get enough. The books I read, I ate up without chewing. I let them take me far from this reality. I am now learning how to read closer so that I can get a better grasp on the deeper ways a writer tells their story. I know learning this is simply another tool I need in order for me to continue to improve my writing. I just have such a hard time with slowing it down to examine things more closely, when what I really want to do is eat up every word and gobble the book whole in its divine form. I am learning to savor each bite, letting the words dance across my tongue while I chew slowly so I can digest the meaning thoroughly.
When I go to pick an unread book off my ever-growing shelves, I struggle with what book to read. I have so many books in so many genres— both new and the classics. While I feel the urgency to read the classics, I also feel the draw of the newer books as they try to entice me. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem as I’m capable of reading several books at once. But for learning purposes, I think I would be doing myself a disservice. So I’m currently only reading one at a time.
There are many resources to be found on close reading. My favorite example is https://writeitsideways.com/get-the-read-better-write-better-workbook-free/ I can already perceive the advantages of working through a reading this way. It really is like taking apart something mechanical so that you can actually see how it goes back together and what makes it work. The concept could be explained to me a hundred times and I wouldn’t be able to understand it the way I do now just from asking myself the right questions.
So, I’m slowing it down and savoring every bite in the hopes that someday I can write elegant well told stories, filled with brilliant descriptions and brimming with talent. Perhaps someday I will unintentionally help another budding author who will dissect one of my novels so that she can improve her own writing. Until then, I continue to learn all I can while writing as much as I’m able so that I can go to sleep every night on a full stomach of words and stories.
Ten years ago, I set out on the path to becoming a full-time writer. While that path ended up melting away into life’s other necessities, it always sat in the back of my mind, begging me to pay attention. I find that I have come full circle to the exact point where I left off and have found… low and behold… the path is still there, still waiting for me.
Ten years ago, I thought I was talented enough that I could just write a book and become a best-selling author. Problem was I had only half-heartedly devoted myself to becoming an author without even realizing it. So becoming an overnight success didn’t happen. Not at all. Not even close.
Instead what happened was a long and rough journey down a rocky road. The economy took a turn for the worse and I ended up being forced by necessity to learn to bartend. I had just enough experience as a cocktail waitress to get my foot in the door to the only dive bar that offered me a job. I worked with some amazing and some not so amazing ladies who taught me enough that I was able to make a meager living.
The problem with all of this is that it was not what I really wanted to do. Over the years, I have learned to be a better server and a better bartender (since I realistically do both). While I do love to serve, it still isn’t what I really want to do. I have learned that sometimes you have to just make a living, whether you feel fulfilled or not. We all have bills to pay and at least one mouth to feed.
A little over a year ago, I decided I wanted to make a second attempt at a writing career and began to take steps to finally become an author. This time though, would be a full-fledged attempt, not just a half-assed one. My first step was to read Stephen King’s book “On Writing” which I’ve wanted to read for the better part of a decade. My copy is quite worn, well read and referred to often. Before I even finished the book, I knew I was on the right path. I have followed his advice as well as the advice of many other writers and began to read like crazy, absorbing it all like a sponge. I usually read several books at a time, all from different genres and authors.
All this reading has been immensely helpful and everything about my writing has improved, especially my descriptions and dialog. My edits are now genuine improvements and seem fluid and natural. Remarkably, for the first time, I am beginning to use plot points and structure instead of just running around in circles with my imagination. All these improvements, yet I’m still learning and I don’t plan to ever stop.
My most recent lesson contained unexpected additional lessons hidden within it. It started with a free writer’s workshop at my local independent bookstore (Vintage Books in Vancouver, WA). I went with an eager heart and an open mind. The topic was setting and it was my goal to learn better ways to work on this problem area. Needless to say, in one short hour, I learned more than that.
Our speaker (author Margaret Pinard) brought example setting passages for us to work on together as a group. She asked that we volunteer to read these passages out loud and then we discussed what worked and what didn’t as far as creating the setting. I ended up volunteering to read the second paragraph (from Rene Denfield’s The Enchanted). I’ve always liked reading aloud, although it usually gives me great anxiety to do so in a public setting. For the first time in my life, I read and I wasn’t nervous. My hands weren’t sweaty, my voice didn’t crack and my heart wasn’t racing. Without understanding why I only know that this is a major success for me. I somehow learned to get past it.
Another thing that I learned, is that I still have a lot to learn. At the bottom of the handout was a list of resources that has quickly re-prioritized the way I read. I am now working on close reading (which essentially is writing about whatever I am reading) so that I can see the subtleties and nuances that I need to learn and can learn no other way. It is an experience unique to a skilled reader.
So how does this bring me full circle? In the end, it reminded me of a book that has been sitting on my shelf only half read for a full decade. It happens to be called Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose. I finished re-reading chapter one, full circle— only this time— I will finish. No more half-assed attempts; only full assed ones.
To me, there is something so incredibly joyous about watching children play. Their enthusiasm permeates through every little smile and every twinkling eye. Their laughter is contagious and their spirits are dauntless. Through their play, they begin to figure things out about others and the world we live in. They begin to learn how to create, which is why their imagination is the most magical.
I miss the imagination from my own childhood. I spent a lot of time alone and being an only child I learned to pretend to play many parts. One day I could fly, the wind blowing through my hair as I whipped from side to side on invisible gusts of air, far above the tops of the trees. Another day I could be talking with royalty or creating a new invention. I miss the adventures my mind created when I was still so very small. From time to time I find I still catch glimpses of those moments. They are always just out of my reach as they float by, little glitters of happiness from a time lost long ago.
Perhaps this is why stories of fantasy and fairy tales have always been so popular. We relish the mystical experience. We desire the full immersion into a magical reality far from our own everyday existence. We want a place where the impossible is possible and where the wonder and excitement of innocence, is brought before us in all its past sparkle and glory. This feeling brings with it an eye-opening wistfulness that we could not otherwise afford to indulge in. Its brightness cannot last in our dreary adult lives.
So many of us are told as we age, that we are supposed to let go of our imagination—that it serves no purpose in our lives as adults. We are taught that imagination is a childish part of ourselves we must outgrow. We are told that successful adults must fit into certain molds and not stray from what is expected. While perhaps this idea is good for most, it doesn’t work for all. For some of us, stunting our imagination also stunts our creativity.
I’m not sure what age I was when this happened to me. Perhaps it happened as a series of events. I remember I used to sit in my room and write stories until one day my step-dad saw what I was writing and after he read some of it (without asking) he proceeded to tell me that not only was my handwriting horrible but so was my story. “You are wasting your time by writing this unless you want to be a starving artist. Writers don’t make any money.” I didn’t write again until high school English classes and even then I was reluctant. Another time I remember laying in bed just staring at the ceiling, letting my mind wander and be imaginative. When my mother saw this, she freaked out and was asking what was wrong with me. Spacing out like that wasn’t something that a normal girl should do.
I let my imagination fall victim to this kind of repeated criticism and it took me years to work on developing my imagination again in a whole new way. It took many teachers and professors who encouraged me to think and to explore my ideas and my dreams. Some days it took no effort and all as I found myself staring off into space, letting my mind wander and my ideas frolic, like when I was a kid. Reading a lot of various books where I could imagine in my mind what the characters looked like and where they were from was probably the most helpful tool towards restoring my imagination.
Over the years, I continued to allow my imagination to take over. I took up coloring again (yes, before the adult coloring books became popular). I started doing arts and crafts with my friend’s kids. I started writing again. Little bit by little bit, my imagination has resurfaced. I believe I have permanently lost the childhood innocence of creativity but as an adult, I attempt to keep playing with and building my imagination and exposing it through my writing. Perhaps now it’s my job to help others reclaim their lost imagination, and this is a thing I take very seriously.
I think one of the best pieces of advice I ever received about writing came from a meme I saw on the Internet. In three consecutive pictures, wearing his typical suit and tie stands Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) from “How I Met Your Mother”. In the first picture, he says “Here’s how you write a book…” The second picture says “Step one: you start writing.” In the third picture, he says “There is no step two.”
In some ways, that’s all there is to it. But there’s also a lot of trial and error, especially if you (like me) have never written a book before. Think back to the first time you remember putting anything together without instructions or the right tools. Trial and error. But you most likely figured it out.
I had a story idea come to me some years back that I just wasn’t ready to tell. I still had so much left to learn and even though I did quite well in English both in high school and college. There are certain things that just can’t be learned from classical schooling. Sometimes life has its own lessons to teach.
These lessons I’ve learned haven’t exactly taught me how to write my book as much as taught me how NOT to. There were things I tried that didn’t work. No matter how hard I tried to make them. I’m grateful that I am good at seeking advice, researching for helpful answers or willing to be guided along by asking myself the right questions.
I’m now on my third time of starting over again, pretty much from scratch. But it took me that long and that many pages to find my writing voice. It took me that long to learn to focus on my story and not just on my characters. It took me many tries and writing techniques until I finally figured out what works best for me. It also took me that long to discipline myself. So I can’t look at the last six months and 50,000 words as a total loss. It was more of an internship.
Each step along through the process has taught me about my flaws in a very personal way. Each step has helped me develop important things such as my dialog and my word flow. The process has taught me how to spot holes in my story and my writing. It has taught me how to be clear and more concise.
The process has taught me other valuable lessons, such as, no matter how many times my brain says that it’s ok to edit when I write, it’s not. It is actually very wrong. I have written this way most of my life and it is a hard habit to break. I finally realized that when I wrote like this, I never finished what I started. NEVER. The only things I’ve ever published or been awarded on were things I wrote through completely the first time —got the whole messy chunk out —before I edited. This lesson has been the most difficult to learn yet the most valuable.
I’ve also learned I write best organically. An actual pencil or pen pushing against crisp lined paper. Canary yellow legal pads work best for me. After no less than 30 minutes of writing, I let the piece simmer on paper before I put it into a word processor (Scrivener is my favorite), where I make a basic but clarifying edit as I type. If it’s a short personal piece (like this one) for a blog —I’ll go ahead and publish it when I’m sure it is done. If I’m not sure, I’ll sleep on it. If it’s a bigger project like my novel, I write for a week on my legal pad and then once a week I type it up, again with a basic clarifying edit. After that, I’m now determined to not toy with it until the entire book pours out of me.
So, yes, it’s been a novel progression and by far one of the most fulfilling set of lessons of my adult life. I will continue to adjust my sails as my personal deadline for finishing approaches. Completion will be a huge personal success in and of itself for me, but my arms and heart remain open to all the things I still have yet to learn along the way.
Each of us carries a unique energy within us; it is the song of our soul. This song is a one-of-a-kind signature that houses the essence of who we are. The energy changes as we experience and navigate life. Some people contain so much energy that it spills out around them like an overflowing cup. In others, it is a quiet hush that lingers by like fall leaves in the wind. Then there are others whose song comes out sounding more like a jack-in-the-box or a cymbal-banging monkey toy. In any case, their distinctive music plays on, no matter the clarity or volume.
I believe that because this is essentially energy we are talking about—that it can shrink and expand. As a child, I was always very happy and boisterous until my parents took steps that continually subdued who I was. Whether by choice or fate, I ended up in situations which continued to take their tolls on my soul, shrinking that energy, subduing it to the point of near suffocation. The only thing that saved me, was the encouragement and love of a select few, even though their presence was minimal.
I have been lucky enough to watch this energy expand in others. For the most part, it has been a wonderful thing to witness. It seems to work best with teens or young adults who have not had much in the way of proper support and encouragement until a teacher, mentor, friend or family member steps up to the plate. These people can change lives. They can stir the flames and rekindle a dying fire. It is a beautiful thing to watch, like the time-lapse photography of a flower blooming. This feeling expands through the soul, changing the tune from chaotic to playful again.
I have also seen the song grow from unhealthy means. On the rare occasion, it can grow from the ego instead of the soul. Outsiders can unintentionally fan these flames with superficial encouragement. I believe this is the basis for the term “delusions of grandeur.” The truth is that this can never be a genuine song of the soul, but instead a fatal case of “blowing one’s own horn.” There is no soulfulness there, only murky shallow puddles.
My hope for you is that the sound of your soul is sweet. I believe that its song radiates from you to light others up. I am optimistic that if you listen to the music of your own soul and don’t like what you hear, that you will make an attempt to harmonize it. I trust that we are all capable of this type of self-reflection and that we can choose to adjust the energy we send out to the world and to others. And lastly, it is my wish that none of us are tone-deaf.
I need to rant about this whole Trump thing. I’ve listened to all of it, read about it, and watched it unfold. I hear people saying “We have to back and support our President.” Or “He’s not my President!” or “We can’t be divided!” Well, guess what? We don’t have to support him. But as of this weekend, he is our President.
We have perpetually been a country divided.
This country was born on division, rivalry, and competition. There is consistently an “us versus them”. Whether it be in politics, sports, religion, different regions, racial, gender based, fashion, music, entertainment, technological, etc., there will always be a difference of opinion, two sides to every coin, every time. It’s called diversity and variety. We can’t (and won’t) like the same things (life would be redundantly boring if we did).
What bothers me the most is the ugliness this has brought to the surface of our lives. Friends and family fighting, not just over words, but beliefs, opinions and attitudes.
Personally, the whole thing disgusts me.
Yes, the President will be made fun of.
Yes, there will always be political satire.
Yes, I’m sure there will be some good things and some bad things that will happen while he is in office.
Yes, I’m sure his behavior and actions will remain atrocious, along with his hair.
In all seriousness though, I hope he can and will do a good job, whether I think he’s capable of it or not. I am optimistic that the American people will do what is in their own best interests. I hope that even though many of us disagree, we can all decide to take care of ourselves and each other. I desire for all of us to evolve, both as people and as a nation. I anticipate our personal successes. Most importantly, my expectation is for us all to see past the bullshit of politics itself and address the cultural issues that have brought all of this to fruition.
So, No, I am not fond of our new President. I will respect him when and if he begins to act respectable. I will trust him when and if he proves himself trustworthy. Until then, I will continue on my merry way. Doing the best I can every day while eagerly awaiting and anticipating the best possible outcome. No more fussing and fighting my friend. (The Beatles)
It has been a cold, icy winter and due to these unfavorable outdoor conditions, by staying at home, I have increased my daily word output by double and sometimes triple these last few weeks. The more I write the more the ideas flow to the surface, ready to be captured and put to paper.
Now, I haven’t been entirely productive. I have spent a handful of hours staring at a blank screen or sheet of paper. I’ve also gotten lost on Facebook, deep cleaned the kitchen and even cleaned out my car. I’ve had days where I started out productive, doing Internet research for my book, only to end up watching Youtube music videos for hours.
Then there are times that I feel I don’t know what I’m doing even trying to write a book! I feel like every second I spend holding a pencil or typing words through a keyboard, is nothing more than a waste of my time. I feel as though I’ve done it all wrong. I feel my stomach begin to sink and tighten.
But then from the deepest recesses of my soul, I hear these words that pull me back and straighten my courage. They are the words of Sylvia Plath, reminding me, “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” Remembering these words continuously encourages me to keep trying.
While I realize that I’m not yet an amazing writer (though I hope to be), I know that I have some skill and at least dash of talent. Every day that I write, my writing improves. I still have a lot to learn and I’ve learned that if I rush things, I’ll overshoot my mark and end up having to back-track. I’ve learned that if I only skim the surface of my subject, my writing will not shine. I’ve learned that there are an infinite number of techniques and tools and that some of these won’t work for me. But some will. Most importantly, I have learned to appreciate the beauty of an effective rewrite and to relish the deliciousness of a tasty edit.
So, I continue to write —if for no one else but me. I write to improve my writing abilities. I also write to improve and understand my life, for my own personal growth. #52essays2017